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US moves to withdraw fracturing regulations

16 Mar 2017, 7.51 pm GMT

US moves to withdraw fracturing regulations

Washington, 16 March (Argus) — President Donald Trump's administration plans to rescind regulations from the US Interior Department that would have set first-time minimum standards for hydraulic fracturing on federal land.

Interior told a federal appeals court yesterday that it would propose a rule to withdraw the fracturing regulations by 13 June. The administration says it arrived at its decision after determining the fracturing regulations do not align with an executive order Trump signed in January that seeks to eliminate "duplicative" regulations.

Interior's pending retreat on the fracturing regulations represents a major victory for the oil and gas industry, which worried about the immediate compliance costs of the rules and about new federal scrutiny of a well-stimulation technique critical to shale development. The industry argues states are in the best position to regulate fracturing.

Former president Barack Obama's administration began crafting the regulations in response to growing concerns that some oil and gas producers were failing to follow industry best practices throughout the fracturing process, leading to spills and water contamination. Interior's fracturing regulations would set standards for well integrity, wastewater disposal and disclosure of fracturing chemicals.

But a federal judge in Wyoming halted the regulations from taking effect in 2016, issued a sweeping ruling that found the federal government lacks authority to regulate fracturing on lands it manages. The Obama administration appealed that decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the US Congress gave it broad authority to manage fracturing on public lands.

Oral arguments in the case, which was fully briefed, were scheduled for 22 March. Interior has now asked the court to indefinitely delay those arguments, in light of its policy decision to withdraw the rule.

Environmentalists are continuing to defend the fracturing regulations and want oral arguments to occur as scheduled. An attorney for the Sierra Club and other environmentalists yesterday asked the 10th Circuit to continue the appeal because the key issue in the case – whether Interior has authority to regulate fracturing – will be relevant to the pending review of the fracturing rule.

"Any decision by (Interior) to rescind the rule will necessarily be informed by whether it has legal authority to manage oil and gas development on public lands. The agency's reversal of positions does not eliminate the need for appellate review," the environmental groups said.

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