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The rules to be rescinded Friday have never been in effect.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.”