US judge blocks new Obama administration rules on fracking

A US judge yesterday blocked new nationwide regulations for oil and gas drilling on federal land from taking effect even as a lawsuit over a law that prohibited the US Environmental Protection Agency from regulating hydraulic fracturing, moved ahead.

Just because the EPA lacks authority to regulate fracking doesn't mean the US Bureau of Land Management has leeway to do so, US district judge Scott Skavdahl wrote. "In the absence of a statute conferring authority, an administrative agency has none," he wrote.

The preliminary injunction meant the rules that had already been postponed would be years away from taking effect, if at all. Skavdahl found the opponents of the rule were likely to prevail due to the merits of their arguments.

The rules were announced by the Bureau of Land Management in March. The rules would apply to fracking and pressure testing well bores to ensure they would not leak.

According to commentators, the order puts temporarily blocks a closely-watched effort by the Obama administration to ensure that hydraulic fracturing did not contaminate water supplies. While the rules applied to only federal lands, they were designed to spur states to follow suit.

Republican Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, approved of the ruling as ''the right decision because it stops the Obama Administration from shoving this harmful policy down the states' throats,'' in a statement issued by his office.

Bishop said the federal rule would cause ''major harm'' to the industry and to states if implemented.

The over 100,000 wells on federal land, accounted for 11 per cent of the national natural gas production and 5 per cent of its oil.

While the US had emerged as a leader in oil production thanks to fracking, the technique had also been blamed for air pollution, tainted groundwater and even earthquakes.

The Obama administration's rules had been opposed by the states of Wyoming, North Dakota, Colorado and Utah, as well as the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Western Energy Alliance, in two separate lawsuits.

The plaintiffs argued that the rules duplicated state regulations and increased costs of extracting resources from oil-rich shale formations in the US, in a bid to protect public health.

A study this July by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University revealed that people who live in areas near hydraulic fracturing sites are more likely candidates for hospitalisation due to heart conditions, neurological illnesses and cancer. (See: People living in areas near hydraulic fracturing more likely to be hospitalised for heart conditions: Study).