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

Trump administration withdraws fracking standards for Indian Country

In a victory for a handful of energy-producing tribes, the Trump administration is planning to rescind a rule that established hydraulic fracturing standards in Indian Country.

A notice sent to the Federal Register announces the proposed withdrawal of the controversial 2015 fracking regulation. Tribes complained it was imposed without their consent and a federal judge eventually ruled that the Bureau of Land Management lacked the authority to subject Indian lands to the standards.

"The BLM now believes that the appropriate framework for mitigating these impacts exists through state regulations, through tribal exercise of sovereignty, and through BLM’s own pre-existing regulations and authorities," the forthcoming notice, which will be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, reads.

As the document states, a number of tribes already follow their own oil and gas fracking standards. The Obama administration reached a settlement last year that recognized the Southern Ute Tribe as the primary regulator of the practice on its reservation in Colorado.

The Ute Tribe, whose reservation is located in neighboring Utah, also challenged the rule in federal court. The lawsuit resulted in a 2016 ruling which said the BLM did not have authority to impose the standards under federal laws that were written to address energy development in Indian Country.

The withdrawal of the rule will not affect other tribes whose governments have banned fracking on their lands. Activists consider the practice to be dangerous to the environment, especially water resources, and they say it contributes to high rates of violence against women and girls because energy development tends to attract outsiders to their communities.

Delegates of the Navajo Nation Council have been holding hearings to consider whether the Navajo Nation should establish new laws or policies affecting fracking. Environmental activists and medicine men and women on the reservation, which is the largest in the U.S., are urging the tribe to outlaw the practice.

Public comments will be accepted on the withdrawal of the fracking rule for 60 days. The standards affect federal lands in addition to Indian lands.

Forthcoming Federal Register Notice:
Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands; Rescission of a 2015 Rule (To Be Published July 25, 2017)

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