Chesapeake Gas Drilling

A Trinidad Drilling rig leased by Chesapeake Energy stands out from the bare landscape in May 2012 in Converse County north of Douglas, Wyo.

Alan Rogers/Casper Star-Tribune

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Environmental groups have appealed a judge's decision to suspend new rules for oil and gas drilling on federal land across the U.S. pending the outcome of a legal challenge to those rules.

The rules should be allowed to take effect to protect land, water and wildlife from practices including hydraulic fracturing, the Sierra Club and others argue in court documents.

On Sept. 30, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl in Wyoming disagreed and blocked the rules from taking effect while the lawsuit contesting them moves ahead.

The environmental groups, which have sided with the federal government in the case, appealed Skavdahl's decision Nov. 27 to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The case itself remains before Skavdahl in Casper.

The plaintiffs are Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, North Dakota, the Ute Tribe and two petroleum industry groups, the Western Energy Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. They say the rules would be costly for industry and cause economic harm to the states.

The rules initially were set to take effect June 24, but Skavdahl suspended them the day before, telling federal officials to submit more information about how they developed their regulations.

The rules would require petroleum developers to disclose to regulators the ingredients in the chemical products they use to improve the results of fracking. Developers also would have to pressure-test well bores to make sure they wouldn't leak.

Opponents of the rules likely will prevail on the merits of their arguments, Skavdahl wrote in September while extending the suspension.

He cited a law that prohibits the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating fracking. Just because the EPA lacks that authority, doesn't give the Interior Department leeway to do so, the judge wrote.

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