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District Court Will Hear Public Lands Fracking Lawsuit In January

A drilling rig is operated on Bureau of Land Management lands in Wyoming.
Bureau of Land Management
A drilling rig is operated on Bureau of Land Management lands in Wyoming.

After a long hiatus, a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s 2017 decision to rescind regulations on hydraulic fracturing on public lands is moving forward. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is scheduled to hear oral arguments in January after prominent conservation groups, including the Sierra Club, filed suit in 2018.

“The effect of that [rescinded rule] was to leave all oil and gas development on federal lands in this country subject to really outdated and inadequate federal standards of our lands and our water and our public health,” said Michael Freeman, attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice. 

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been known to cause earthquakes and contaminate land and water. 

For its part, the Trump administration has argued that the Obama-era fracking regulations were needless and burdensome. An administrative review found that all 32 states with federal oil and gas leases have existing regulations that address fracking.

“Furthermore, since the 2015 final rule was published, more companies are using state regulatory agencies and/or databases to disclose the chemical content of hydraulic fracturing fluids,” the Bureau of Land Management wrote in a press release. 

But not all regulations are created equal, according to Freeman.

“The fact that some states have regulations that say something about fracking doesn’t mean those regulations are anywhere close to as protective as the Bureau of Land Management rule,” he said.

The Obama-era rule was never formalized due to pending litigation, according to the BLM. 

In 2017, the agency estimated that 90% of oil and gas development on public lands used some form of fracking.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center For the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2020 KUER 90.1. To see more, visit .

Nate Hegyi is a reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau based at Yellowstone Public Radio.
Nate Hegyi
Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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