Trump took the first steps to make it easier for frackers to pollute on public lands

A court filing this week begins the process of revoking and redoing a 2015 rule.

The 2015 regulations required more disclosure of what, exactly, fracking companies are putting in the water. CREDIT: AP Photo//Sue Ogrocki
The 2015 regulations required more disclosure of what, exactly, fracking companies are putting in the water. CREDIT: AP Photo//Sue Ogrocki

The Trump administration announced this week, via a court filing, that it intends to roll back a rule meant to safeguard human health and the environment from the effects of fracking on public and tribal lands.

In a motion filed Wednesday in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Trump administration indicated that it will begin a process to rewrite the fracking rule, which was put in place by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2015.

Fracking — short for hydraulic fracturing — is a method of extracting oil or gas from fissures underground by injecting chemically-laced liquids at high pressure. Industry and independent studies have linked fracking and wastewater disposal to a steep increase in earthquakes, methane leaks, and water contamination.

The BLM rule, developed after four years of regional forums, stakeholder meetings, and public comment, was put in place to protect groundwater, increase transparency for fracking chemicals, and raise the standards for disposing of waste.

“The common-sense fracking rule was developed after years of analysis and over a million public comments, but the Trump administration clearly has no interest in protecting communities and water supplies from the impacts of drilling and development,” said Greg Zimmerman, deputy director for the Center for Western Priorities, an advocacy group that tracks the impacts of energy development on public lands in the American West.

The BLM’s 2015 rule updated well-drilling regulations that were more than 30 years old and hadn’t kept pace with the technical complexities of today’s hydraulic fracturing operations. This week’s court filing leaves oil and gas companies without clear guidance on what the rules of the road are on public lands, or what best practices should be followed when it comes to transparency or safety and environmental protections.

“This shortsighted decision tells communities that reasonable safeguards and transparency in drilling operations matter less to this administration than handouts to oil companies and other special interests,” Zimmerman said.

Trump has prioritized the interests of the fossil fuel industry over environmental health before. Within weeks of taking office, Trump rolled back protections for streams hit by mountaintop coal mining. The move was a “top priority” of Robert Murray, CEO of the coal mining giant Murray Energy Corp, and one of then-candidate Trump’s significant political donors.

Trump’s EPA administrator also rescinded a request for information from oil and gas companies — at the behest of industry — that would have helped the agency formulate methane-reduction rules.

And while he did not offer any specific energy policy ideas in his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump has repeatedly pledged to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, the EPA’s rule to reduce carbon emissions from the electricity sector. An executive order beginning that process is expected next week.