Trump administration officially files to make it easier to frack public lands

The original rule was intended to prevent water pollution.

Fracking on public land will be subject to less regulation under the Trump administration. Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Fracking on public land will be subject to less regulation under the Trump administration. Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

The Department of the Interior intends to repeal an Obama-era rule designed to prevent fracking companies operating on public lands from polluting water supplies.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Monday submitted a proposed revocation to the Federal Register to wipe from the books a rule that required fracking operators on public lands to disclose chemicals used in fracking and to ensure certain precautions are taken around clean water sources.

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is a method of recovering oil and gas from underground shale deposits. During fracking, large volumes of chemical- and sand-laced water are injected at high pressure into rock formations, breaking up the rock and releasing the oil and gas trapped within. The process has been linked to earthquakes, air pollution, and potential water contamination.

According to BLM, “the 2015 final rule was intended to: ensure that wells are properly constructed to protect water supplies, make certain that the fluids that flow back to the surface as a result of hydraulic fracturing operations are managed in an environmentally responsible way, and provide public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids.”

But the agency, which oversees fossil fuel leasing on public lands, now thinks the regulation is too burdensome for industry and has proposed a new rule in order to revoke the earlier rule. “The BLM is now proposing to rescind the 2015 final rule because we believe it is unnecessarily duplicative of state and some tribal regulations and imposes burdensome reporting requirements and other unjustified costs on the oil and gas industry,” the new, proposed rule says.

In its explanation for revoking the rule, BLM says that many states now require fracking operators to disclose the chemical compounds in fracking fluid. “There is no need for a federal chemical disclosure requirement, since companies are already making those disclosures on most of the operations, either to comply with state law or voluntarily,” the agency says.

In fact, the 2015 rule never went into effect, languishing in court after challenges from states and the oil and gas industry. Wyoming argued the rule “unlawfully interferes” with the state’s existing fracking regulations and that BLM didn’t have the authority to regulate underground injections.

In the spring of 2016, after staying the rule for a year, a District Court set the rule aside, saying BLM did not have the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing operations. The Interior Department and a number of environmental groups appealed the decision, but before the District Court of Appeals heard oral arguments, President Donald Trump had been elected, and the Interior Department told the court it had changed its position.

Trump specifically targeted the rule in an executive order in March. Overall, the administration has made repealing environmental regulations one of its top priorities.

The public comment period for the proposed rule will close 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register, expected Tuesday.