Ute Tribe disputes legality of BLM fracking rule in Indian Country

The seal of the Ute Tribe of Utah is seen on a gymnasium on the reservation. Photo from Ute Tribe Recreation / Facebook

The Bureau of Land Management lacks the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing in Indian Country, the Ute Tribe argued in a brief filed in federal court on Monday.

The BLM cited a slew of laws -- including the Act of March 3, 1909, the Indian Mineral Leasing Act of 1938 and the Indian Mineral Development Act of 1982 -- when it issued the fracking regulation in March 2015. But the tribe argues that none of those laws authorize the agency to assert jurisdiction in Indian Country.

An entirely different law, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, in fact excludes trust lands from the BLM's reach, the tribe argues. The tribe acknowledges that the Bureau of Indian Affairs can exercise authority over mineral development but the BIA wasn't the one that issued the disputed rule.

"As BLM admits, Congress delegated both the general power related to Indian Affairs and the specific power for rulemaking under the IMLA and IMDA to the BIA," the April 18 brief reads. "Because it has the delegated duty and trust responsibility, BIA cannot simply say that whatever the BLM adopts at some future date is BIA’s rule."

Judge Scott Skavdahl has issued an injunction that prevents the BLM from implementing the rule.The tribe is part of the case along with the states of Colorado, North Dakota and Utah and Wyoming.

The Obama administration is fighting the injunction in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Skavdahl could make a decision before that stage of the litigation is resolved.

Get the Story:
Federal fracking rule in hands of federal judge in Wyoming (AP 4/20)

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

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