The Trump administration on Friday axed controversial Obama-era environmental rules for fracking on public and tribal lands.
The announcement comes the same day federal officials started the process to ease safety requirements for offshore drilling.
These are just the latest examples of how regulators under Trump are rolling back safety, disclosure, and other environmental rules — from the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan to the delay of rules curbing natural gas flaring on federal lands — in the name of boosting the energy industry.
Officials at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management are repealing 2015 fracking rules, effective immediately, “to relieve operators of duplicative, unnecessary, costly and unproductive regulatory burdens,” according to a new notice in the Federal Register.
The 2015 rules were created to reduce the risks of companies using hydraulic fracturing, the most popular method for extracting oil and gas on federal lands. They included new requirements for: well permitting, construction, and casing; disclosing the chemicals used in fracking; and disposing of related waste.
Before the rules took effect, however, a combination of four states (Colorado, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming), the Ute Indian Tribe, and industry groups sued the government to stop them. After putting the regulations on temporary hold, a federal judge in Wyoming in 2016 struck them down, arguing the government had no authority to regulate fracking. A higher court later reversed this decision, but the rules never went into effect.
In this new order under Trump, officials say rescinding the rule “eliminates the need for further litigation about BLM’s statutory authority.” By not explicitly wading into whether the agency has the power to regulate fracking or not, the door is left open for future officials to do so.
Environmental groups oppose the move and are considering their options for how to respond. “We’re definitely disappointed, of course, that the rule was rescinded,” Briana Mordick, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This was another, in a long line of favors that the Trump administration has been doing for the oil and gas industry in the year.”
While the administration said in the notice that states have their own rules to take care of these issues, Mordick said, they failed to mention how states have differing rules, and in many cases the federal ones would have been stronger.
The oil industry quickly applauded the move.
“Today’s announcement means that the BLM can work with the states and tribal governments — not against them — to encourage responsible investment on federal lands, create jobs, and promote America’s energy security,” Erik Milito, a director at the trade group American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement.
Today’s other big environmental news comes from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSSE), which proposed amending offshore drilling rules, such as removing a mandate that companies certify certain devices through an independent third party. The public has until January 29 to comment on the proposed changes.
Changes to another major offshore safety rule, one finalized by BSEE in 2016 to help prevent well blowouts, have also been drafted but not yet published. Both safety rules were put in place following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf Coast.
“If we either reduce or eliminate these baseline protections that were put in place, we’re going to be back to where we were before BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy where every company does what they think is right,” Lois Epstein, the Arctic program director at The Wilderness Society who has seen a copy of the draft rule, told BuzzFeed News. “You don’t want everything to be at the level of the least capable operator.”
This story has been updated to include comments from Briana Mordick of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Lois Epstein of The Wilderness Society.
Zahra Hirji is a science reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC
Contact Zahra Hirji at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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