Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion with the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announcing the Bureau of Land Management intends to start a new federal rulemaking process to rescind the rules. That will begin in the next 90 days.
Justice also asked a hearing scheduled on March 22 before the appeals court be canceled. That announcement was denounced by environmental groups, including Earthjustice, that’s representing six eco-groups, mostly in the West, in the court case.
“Today’s news demonstrates the degree to which Secretary Zinke and the Trump administration are in the pocket of the oil and gas industry. This is a political decision intended to circumvent the rule of law and deliver a gift to the industry at the expense of public safety,” said Earthjustice attorney Mike Freeman, in a statement.
Despite the announcement, there is a slight chance the eco-groups and the courts could keep the rules intact, observers say.
The rules had been approved in March 2015 after five years of discussions and was designed to modernize the drilling rules on public lands handled by BLM.
The rules update well construction and testing requirements, call for the use of tanks instead of pits to store drilling wastes, required advance review and approval of fracking operations by BLM, and require operators to disclose the chemicals used in fracking. BLM received more than 1.5 million public comments before the rules were adopted.
Those rules had been challenged in federal court in Wyoming by the oil and natural gas drilling industry in 2015, with U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl in Wyoming setting aside the rule. That decision was appealed by BLM and Earthjustice, which had intervened in the case.