Wyoming Is Suing The Federal Government Over New Fracking Rules

CREDIT: AP Photo/Robert W. Black

A trailer park sits on the edge of Rock Springs, Wyo., in the Green River Basin in this June 14, 2001 photo. In recent years, the Green River Basin has struggled with air quality issues, due largely to the oil and gas boom.

When the federal government introduced stronger standards for fracking on public lands earlier this month, the oil and gas industry was quick to file lawsuits. On Thursday, the state of Wyoming joined the fray.

Claiming that the new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) set of rules released last week “unlawfully interferes” with the state’s existing fracking regulations, Wyoming filed a suit Thursday against the U.S. Department of the Interior, Sec. Sally Jewell, and BLM, requesting judicial review of the rules.

In the lawsuit, Wyoming claims that BLM cannot put these restrictions on fracking because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has “exclusive authority” to regulate any underground injections under the Safe Water Drinking Act of 1974.

However, under the so-called “Halliburton Loophole,” added to the SWDA in 2003, fracking activities are specifically excluded from the definition of underground injections, unless diesel fuel is being used — which is fairly uncommon.

“It appears the state just has it wrong legally,” Mike Freeman, an attorney with Earth Justice told ThinkProgress. “Wyoming’s petition actually cites the definition of underground injection that excludes fracking.”

The new BLM rules require oil and gas companies to disclose all the chemicals used while fracking on protected lands. During the fracking process, a liquid, usually water, is mixed with chemicals and injected into shale, releasing pockets of natural gas or oil. The water generally cannot be recycled and is toxic after use. Under the new rules, companies will be prohibited from storing fracking wastewater in open pits on national public land and required to periodically test the integrity of every well to help prevent pollution.

Two oil and gas industry groups, Independent Petroleum Association for America and the Western Energy Alliance, have also filed a lawsuit against BLM on similar overreach grounds, saying that the “final rule as issued is contrary to law.” North Dakota is also reportedly considering a lawsuit. Both Wyoming and North Dakota have experienced an oil and gas boom in recent years.

BLM manages more than 17.5 million acres of public lands in Wyoming, and also has the mineral rights to another 40.7 million acres in the state. In 2013, the most recent year data has been released, 620 new oil and gas wells were started in the state. According to that data, more than 7 million acres of public land in Wyoming are currently under lease by oil and gas developers.

The BLM’s new rules apply only to oil and gas extraction on federally managed land. As of 2013, the United States managed 247 million acres of public land and had another 700 million acres of mineral rights. Some in Congress want that to change, though. A nonbinding amendment introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) would support state efforts to sell public lands, including national forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, historic sites, and national monuments. The amendment, which would require further legislation in order to become law, passed the Senate on Thursday. The amendment echoes similar proposals made by House Natural Resources Committee Chair Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz (R-TX).