A Federal Judge Just Struck Down Obama’s Fracking Regulations

Obama’s attempt to crack down on the oil and gas industry just hit a major roadblock.

<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-378131167/stock-photo-fracking-rig-and-road-in-a-farmers-field.html?src=3zJM6YOUTVR1eurlbVijBg-1-1">Lonny Garris</a>/Shutterstock


A major push by the Obama administration to curb the environmental impacts of fracking suffered a severe blow Wednesday evening, when a federal judge in Wyoming ruled that the proposed regulations overstepped the government’s authority. The decision could mean that President Barack Obama will leave office without delivering on one of environmentalists’ biggest demands: Clamping down on air and water pollution from the chemicals used in fracking, a controversial oil and gas drilling technique that has driven the country’s oil and gas boom during Obama’s tenure.

The Interior Department had sought to require inspections of fracked oil and gas wells on public land, and also to require that companies publicly disclose the chemicals used in those wells. (Fracking entails injecting a high-pressure cocktail of water, sand, and chemicals into underground shale formations.) The proposal was contested by the state of Wyoming, a major producer of natural gas, and by a group of oil industry trade groups. According to the ruling by Judge Scott Skavdahl, an Obama appointee, “Congress has not delegated to the Department of Interior the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing. The [Bureau of Land Management]’s effort to do so through the Fracking Rule is in excess of its statutory authority and contrary to law.”

Only about 10 percent of the nation’s fracking operations take place on federal land, according to the New York Times—the rest happens on state, local, or private land that would not have been subject to the federal regulations. Still, the rules would have given Obama a significant environmental victory and would help counter the argument put forth by many activists that his legacy on climate change has been muddied by the fracking boom.

Another regulation that could restrict fracking, focused on methane emissions from oil and gas wells, was released by the Environmental Protection Agency in May and is likely to face a similar slate of litigation that could unfold after Obama leaves office.

In any case, the ruling “is not the final word,” as the Times explains:

While the regulation will be temporarily halted, the federal Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit is also reviewing the rule. Obama administration officials characterized Judge Skavdahl’s ruling as a delay, and said they were waiting for the decision by the appeals court.

“It’s unfortunate that implementation of the rule continues to be delayed, because it prevents regulators from using 21st century standards to ensure that oil and gas operations are conducted safely and responsibly on public and tribal lands,” the Interior Department said in a statement from the agency’s spokeswoman, Jessica Kershaw.

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.