The Trump administration will take its final step to repeal the Obama administration’s 2015 rule setting standards for hydraulic fracturing on federal land.
A formal notice from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) making the repeal final was posted publicly Thursday and is due to be published in the Federal Register Friday.
The repeal is part of a broad Trump administration effort to repeal environmental rules it finds unnecessary, and to promote domestic production of fossil fuels and other energy sources.
“This final rule is needed to prevent the unnecessarily burdensome and unjustified administrative requirements and compliance costs of the 2015 rule from encumbering oil and gas development on federal and Indian lands,” the BLM wrote in the notice.
The BLM’s notice does not take a position on whether or not the agency ever had legal authority to enforce the law. Republicans and the oil industry say that it did not, as did a federal judge in Wyoming who overturned the rule, only to be later overruled on appeal.
The 2015 rule came after years of deliberations within the Obama administration over how to deal with fracking. The practice, in which fluids are forced underground at high pressure to recover oil and natural gas, has grown dramatically in recent years, leading to a massive domestic oil and gas boom.
Environmentalists argue that fracking can be dangerous for groundwater, soil and air. Federal research, including a major Environmental Protection Agency study, found that such contamination can happen, but is far from common.
The Obama rule focused mainly on three areas: mandating that companies disclose the chemicals they use to frack, requiring them to cover surface ponds that house fracking fluids and setting standards for the construction of the wells.
The regulation never took effect. Wyoming federal Judge Scott Skavdahl put it on hold in 2015, before overturning it in 2016.
The oil and gas industry applauded the repeal.
“The rescinding of this burdensome rule, which was never enacted due to IPAA and Western Energy Alliance’s ongoing legal challenge, will save our member companies and those operating on federal lands hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs without any corresponding safety benefits,” Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said in a statement.
“It was clear from the start that the federal rule was redundant with state regulation and politically motivated, as the prior administration could not point to one incident or regulatory gap that justified the rule,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance.
Environmentalists said the repeal puts human and wildlife health at risk.
“The Trump administration is endangering public health and wildlife by allowing the fracking industry to run roughshod over public lands,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
“Fracking is a toxic business, and that’s why states and countries have banned it. Trump’s reckless decision to repeal these common-sense protections will have serious consequences.”
The rule’s repeal will take effect immediately. Environmental groups and Democratic states may then sue the BLM to try to get it reinstated.