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BLM’s Federal Lands Fracking Rule: Merits and Ramifications

October 2015

Citation: ELR 10915

Author: Paul Smyth, Richard McNeer, Poe Leggette, Amy Mall, and Hillary Hoffmann

On March 20, 2015, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a final rule regulating hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian lands. The new regulations will require public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluids, higher standards for storing water produced by wells, and the provision of more geologic information in an effort to decrease the risk of crosswell contamination. Though the rule will only impact about 100,000 wells, or 10% of fracking operations in the United States, critics from across the political spectrum have challenged it in the press and in the courts. Industry groups filed suit arguing it is duplicative of state and tribal regulations and not based on scientific evidence. Wyoming and North Dakota went to court claiming, among other things, that BLM’s rule conflicts with the Safe Drinking Water Act. Indian tribes have also spoken out, suggesting that the rule improperly affiliates Indian lands with federal land. On the other hand, environmental organizations have decried the rule as insufficient to prevent the risks associated with fracking and overly accommodating to industry. On May 28, 2015, the Environmental Law Institute held a seminar on the rule, which has since been stayed by the U.S. District Court of Wyoming. In this Dialogue, we present a transcript of the discussion, which has been edited for style, clarity, and space considerations.

Paul Smyth (moderator) is a Senior Counsel at Perkins Coie, formerly with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of the Solicitor. Richard McNeer is an attorney with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of the Solicitor, Division of Mineral Resources. Poe Leggette is a Partner at Baker & Hostetler. Amy Mall is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Hillary Hoffmann is a Professor of Law at Vermont Law School’s Environmental Center.

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