A federal judge in Wyoming has blocked the Obama administration’s first major regulations that set stricter standards for hydraulic fracturing on public lands, the Wall Street Journal reported. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique for oil and gas drilling and has a bad reputation among environmental groups.
The judge issued a preliminary injunction, halting the Interior Department’s ability to carry out the rules. U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl said the Interior Department lacked the authority to issue the regulations. The rules, which were issued in March by the department’s Bureau of Land Management and focus on drilling safety, applied to oil and gas production on federal and tribal lands, according to the New York Times, however, 90 percent of fracking in the U.S. is done on state and private land and is governed by state and private regulations. The announcement of the rules was met with a backlash from major oil and gas industry groups, which sued the administration, saying the rules were unnecessary and duplicated state regulations.
“The fracking rule creates an overlapping federal regime, in the absence of congressional authority to do so, which interferes with the states’ sovereign interests in, and public policies related to, regulation of hydraulic fracturing,” the judge wrote, as the New York Times reported.
The ruling stalls the implementation of the regulations in every state until the Wyoming court hears arguments on their legal merits. The government could appeal the order, and a spokewoman for the Interior Department said the agency is consulting with the Justice Department about the decision.
“While the matter is being resolved, the BLM will follow the court’s order and will continue to process applications for permit to drill and inspect well sites under its pre-existing regulations,” she said, the Wall Street Journal reported.
While industry groups applauded the decision, environmental groups likely felt defeat. Hydraulic fracking is used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the U.S., where millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock and release the gas, according to ProPublica. Environmentalists worry about the chemicals contaminating surrounding water supplies and wildlife.
The drafting of the fracking rules began in Obama’s first term, when breakthroughs in technology led to an increase in the production of oil and gas. While most energy-producing states regulate fracking already, there are no national standards.