Colorado latest state to join lawsuit against hydraulic fracturing regulations

A Wyoming federal judge has allowed Colorado to join Wyoming and North Dakota in a lawsuit challenging new regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian land. The lawsuit claims that the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) does not have the authority to set these rules because federal law leaves it to the states to regulate oil and gas operations.

The regulations announced last month by the BLM, which are due to come into effect on June 24th, are aimed chiefly at tackling the issue of groundwater contamination in an attempt to manage environmental concerns. The three main requirements are that companies meet construction and drilling standards, disclose the chemicals used in fracturing fluids and dispose of contaminated water safely. Many states already have these, and other, regulations in place for operations regardless of whether the drilling is on federal or private land.

Many are concerned that the new regulations will not only cause unnecessary extra costs and duplication of paperwork, adding years to the permitting process, but also reduce operators’ flexibility in ensuring that the environmental footprint of development is as small as possible.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman said in a statement “To be clear, this case is not about whether hydraulic fracturing should or should not be regulated. It should be regulated, and Colorado is doing so. However, the debate over hydraulic fracturing is complicated enough without the federal government encroaching on states’ rights. This lawsuit will demonstrate that BLM exceeds its powers when it invades the states’ regulatory authority in this area”.

This is not the first time the legitimacy of the BLM’s new regulations have been questioned, the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPPA) and Western Energy Alliance were first to file a lawsuit almost immediately after they were announced.

“Colorado’s challenge to the BLM’s new regulations represents a building trend of state pushback to federal encroachment into state sovereignty over hydraulic fracturing regulation,” said Mark Barron, attorney from BakerHostetler, representing IPAA and Western Energy Alliance in their challenge. “The states have shown leadership in regulating oil and gas development, and particularly the process of hydraulic fracturing. Interior’s action represents regulatory overreach and an untenable infringement on state sovereignty.”

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