Ute Tribe and states win injunction against new BLM fracking rule

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota hosts more than 1,000 fracking wells. Photo by Talli Nauman / Native Sun News

A federal judge on Wednesday granted a preliminary injunction against a controversial fracking rule that applies to public and Indian lands.

Judge Scott Skavdahl did not outright strike down the Bureau of Land Management rule that creates hydraulic fracturing standards on public and Indian lands. But his ruling raises serious doubts about the Obama administration's rationale for asserting authority in Indian Country.

The BLM's rule cited the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 as the basis for imposing fracking standards on public lands. By extension, the Interior Department claimed the Act of March 3, 1909, the Indian Mineral Leasing Act of 1938 and the Indian Mineral Development Act of 1982 require Indian lands to receive the "same protections" as public lands.

But Skavdahl said it was not clear that Congress authorized the BLM to take action under these laws. So he imposed the injunction while the lawsuit proceeds.

"These statutes, generally, grant the [Interior] Secretary broad regulatory jurisdiction over oil and gas development and operations on Indian lands," Skavdahl wrote in the the 54-page ruling. "However, neither the IMLA nor the IMDA delegates any more specific authority over oil and gas drilling operations than the MLA, nor has BLM promulgated separate regulations for operations on Indian lands."

The Ute Tribe of Utah, the states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and North Dakota and two industry groups are challenging the rule. It went into effect on June 24 but will remain on hold due to the injunction.

Get the Story:
Judge blocks federal oil, gas drilling rules pending lawsuit (AP 9/30)
Judge Grants Injunction Blocking Fracking In Favor Of Energy Groups, States, Tribe (K2 Radio 9/30)
Judge Blocks Obama Administration Rules on Fracking (The New York Times 10/1)
Federal Court Blocks Obama Administration’s Fracking Rule (The Wall Street Journal 10/2)

Federal Register Notice:
Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands (March 26, 2015)

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