The new Bureau of Land Management rules regarding fracking on federal lands were just about to go into effect this month, pleasing environmental activists no end since it would make the process essentially untenable. But several states, along with energy company interests, had filed suit to protest the excessively heavy handed rules and a federal judge has now shut down the implementation of these restrictions pending further review.

A federal judge in Wyoming has temporarily blocked implementation of the Obama administration’s regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal land, hours before they were set to take effect.

The late Tuesday decision in the District Court of Wyoming means the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) cannot implement the rule Wednesday as it had planned.
While the stay is only preliminary and could be lifted at any time, it represents a setback for the administration’s first major attempt to account for the explosion of the controversial fracking process in its rules for energy companies that lease federal land.

Four oil- and natural gas-heavy states sued to stop the rule, as did two industry associations.

Judge Scott Skavdahl issued the stay after a full day of arguments, saying it’s necessary to give the federal government more time to explain how it developed the rule and how it considered comments on it from the public, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

While the BLM rules on fracking are excessively restrictive and likely intended to appease the green lobby, this week’s action shouldn’t be interpreted as a final decision or revocation of the rules. This is essentially a hold in response to a request for further review. But it’s a pause which is clearly justified. The Western Energy Alliance has brought up multiple concerns about the rights of landowners and the oppressive nature of these rules.

  • States and tribes have reacted strongly to the rule because it infringes upon their regulatory primacy, and the large economic impact will further disadvantage Western states compared to other production areas of the country without public lands.
  • The rule will divert investment away from energy development, job creation and economic growth into federal compliance redundant with state regulation, further disadvantaging Western public lands states.
  • The increase in the cost of development will reduce royalty and tax revenue to the American taxpayers, tribes, Western states and local governments as development moves to other areas without federal lands.

There will be rounds of appeals on this, but I do have to wonder how strongly this will be fought from the White House side. The Obama administration has recently loosened restrictions on Arctic drilling and even taken a less harsh line on some pipeline issues. The evidence has been in on fracking for some time now and even the EPA was forced to admit that the hyped up dangers being tossed around in the media for years were based on a lack of science. The process which led to the final rules from BLM began years ago when the administration was still desperately currying favor with the green lobby. Since that time, energy exploration has proven to be a huge boon to the nation in terms of jobs and prosperity while the advertised dangers have turned out to be far more manageable than we were told by the fabulists like Josh Fox.

We might actually see the White House back down on this one. Let’s cross our fingers.