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Trump administration rescinds rules on fracking

President Donald Trump’s administration is rescinding proposed rules for hydraulic fracturing and other oil- and gas-drilling practices on federal lands, government officials announced Thursday.

The rules developed under President Barack Obama would have applied mainly to western states like Wyoming, where half of the state’s oil production and three-quarters of its gas comes from federal minerals.

Companies would have had to disclose the chemicals used in fracking, which pumps pressurized water underground to break open hydrocarbon deposits. They also would have been required to supply additional data to regulators, like providing verification before fracking that the wells could withstand the high pressure and post-ops reports detailing how the frac was done.

The rules to be rescinded Friday have never been in effect. A federal judge in Wyoming blocked them at the last minute in 2015. In September, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver declined to rule in that case because the Trump administration intended to rescind the rules.

The long-awaited change drew praise from industry groups including the Washington, D.C.-based Independent Petroleum Association of America and Denver-based Western Energy Alliance, which sued to block the rules.

They claimed the federal rules would have duplicated state rules, putting unnecessary and expensive burdens on petroleum developers.

“States have an exemplary safety record regulating fracking, and that environmental protection will continue as before,” Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma said in a release.

Wyoming enforces its own fracking regulations, regardless of whether operators are dealing with federal, state or private minerals, said Mark Watson, supervisor of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The Wyoming rules, some of the first developed in the country, are notably similar to what the federal agencies wanted to require, from disclosure of chemicals, to guidelines for well integrity and water protection.

Having two rules for the same operations creates confusion for operators, Watson said.

“Wyoming believes that the states are best positioned to regulate hydraulic fracturing,” he said in an email. “The [federal] rule, if implemented, would provide a disincentive to develop production on federal minerals and encourage waste in Wyoming without increasing environmental protection or providing more public information.”

Fracking has been so successful in boosting production over the past decade it has become almost synonymous with oil and gas drilling. In many areas, it would be rare for a gas or oil well to not be fracked.

The process requires several million gallons of water each time. Environmentalists say the potential risks to groundwater require oversight, and without a national standard, states regulators could compete in a race to the bottom on environmental rules in order to draw industry revenue and jobs within their borders.

“Fracking is a toxic business, and that’s why states and countries have banned it,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an email. “Trump’s reckless decision to repeal these common-sense protections will have serious consequences.”

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune 

People stand on a downtown Casper rooftop during the total phase of the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

Volunteers with chainsaws and lassos rescue herd of elk that fell through the ice on Wyoming reservoir

About a dozen elk were roped, lassoed and dragged to safety Friday morning after they fell through the ice into Palisades Reservoir.

A group of more than 20 concerned citizens, law enforcement officers, wildlife biologists and others gathered between 7 and 8 a.m. after morning commuters outside Alpine noticed elk struggling in the reservoir, said Gary Fralick, a wildlife biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

“I was heading to work going to Jackson and saw a cop and one other truck pulled over,” said Alpine resident Dusty Jones. “Then I saw them out there on the ice on the Palisades with a herd of elk.”

The group of cows and calves were moving onto the Alpine Feedground early Friday morning when they walked across the edge of the reservoir where typically there would be dry ground. Calls began coming into the local Game and Fish and sheriff’s offices from people driving by.

“A number of people responded to it and proceeded to chip and chainsaw and ice auger a pathway through the ice to the shoreline,” Fralick said.

But because the ice was 2 feet thick in places, people could not cut a line all the way to shore, which meant they had to rope and lasso the elk and pull them onto the ice and to safety. The extraction took about 45 minutes. Cow elk weigh between 550 and 700 pounds. When wet they weigh even more.

Two calves who did not immediately recover because of exhaustion were loaded into a backhoe and taken to the feedground. Fralick said they were standing shortly after.

While herds of elk have been known to fall through the ice – about 30 died two years ago on Palisades – this is the first time in more than 25 years working for the department that Fralick can remember that many elk being saved.

“Without that many people helping, many more elk would have died,” he said. “People were trying to pull elk out of the water while people were sawing through ice to make a pathway to the shoreline. It was a big team effort to try and get them out of the ice.”

A Wyoming judge recommended another female inmate be sent to boot camp. But the state's program only accepts men.

A Laramie County judge on Friday recommended a Wyoming woman attend boot camp as part of her sentence, though it remains unclear whether she will have to travel to another state because Wyoming only offers the program to young male convicts.

In April, Samantha Taylor of Gillette agreed to plead guilty to felony methamphetamine possession, court documents show. In exchange for her plea, two other felony drug charges and a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge were dropped. The prosecution also agreed to limit its sentencing argument to three-to-five years imprisonment, according to the documents.

On Friday, Laramie County District Court Judge Thomas Campbell sentenced Taylor to two to four years imprisonment with a boot camp recommendation, Campbell’s clerk said Friday. Taylor is only the second woman that a Wyoming judge has recommended attend boot camp. Inmates who succeed in the months-long program in Newcastle can ask a judge to reduce their sentence, however it is only open to men.

A Sublette County judge recommended in May that Taylor Blanchard, a woman also convicted of a drug crime, attend boot camp after she violated probation. However, she could not attend the Newcastle program because it’s not open to women. Blanchard sued the state in July alleging her civil rights were violated because she had not been sent to boot camp and was not given the opportunity to reduce her six-year prison sentence.

Blanchard was eventually sent to a program in Florida. Her federal suit against the Department of Corrections is scheduled to go to trial in August.

A Department of Corrections spokesman on Friday said the department had not yet received a sentencing order and that he was unsure where Taylor would be serving her boot camp recommendation.

Taylor’s public defender, Robin Cooper, did not respond to a voicemail Friday requesting comment for this story.

John Robinson, who is representing Blanchard in the federal suit, said: “It’ll be interesting to see if Samantha Taylor is given the same opportunity as the men, or if she’ll be driven across the country in shackles.”