Court Ruling Overthrows Obama Administration's Fracking Regulations

Opponents of federal oversight rejoice: a ruling by U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl reiterates the limitations of the federal government to regulate fracking.

2 minute read

June 23, 2016, 12:00 PM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Image of hydraulic fracturing equipment

UkberriNet / Flickr

"A federal judge in Wyoming has struck down the Obama administration's regulations on hydraulic fracturing," reports Camila Domonoske, "ruling that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management doesn't have the authority to establish rules over fracking on federal and Indian lands."

According to Domonoske, "Skavdahl made it clear what he was — and wasn't — considering in his ruling." Here's the judge's own words, taken directly from the ruling [pdf]:

The issue before this Court is not whether hydraulic fracturing is good or bad for the environment or the citizens of the United States....The Constitutional role of this Court is to interpret the applicable statutory enactments and determine whether Congress has delegated to the Department of Interior legal authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing. It has not.

The Department of the Interior issued the regulations in March 2015, requiring "that companies drilling for oil and natural gas disclose the chemicals they use in the fracking process," among other measures, explains Domonoske.

Domonoske also explains that this week's court ruling came down to regulatory powers (or lack thereof) established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. "As Skavdahl notes, it 'expressly and unambiguously' excludes fracking from the list of oil and gas production processes that the EPA can regulate." Thus, the power to regulate fracking falls not to federal agencies like the EPA or the Department of Interior, but rather to states. For selected passages from the court ruling, see a separate article by Jonathan H. Adler.

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