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White House to defend fracking authority

Court found federal government acting on hydraulic fracturing without mandate from Congress.

By Daniel J. Graeber
White House to defend fracking authority
White House said it will continue to defend its authority after court strikes down measures from the federal Department of Interior. File photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, June 23 (UPI) -- White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the federal government would continue pressing its authority over hydraulic fracturing in the courts.

From Wyoming, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl found the federal Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management was not granted authority by Congress to regulate hydraulic fracturing on public lands. In his ruling, the judge said the decision was not based on environmental grounds.

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"The constitutional role of this court is to interpret the applicable statutory enactments and determine whether Congress has delegated to the Department of Interior legal authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing," the ruling stated. "It has not."

Speaking to reporters after the ruling, Earnest said a case can be made that the government has a duty to ensure hydraulic fracturing, known also as fracking, is done in a way that doesn't harm public interest or health.

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"When it comes to the legal authority at stake, we'll continue to make our case in the courts," he said.

The BLM had required oil and gas companies to disclose the chemical components of fluids used during the fracking process, which involves the injection of small amounts of abrasives and liquids to coax material out of shale basins. Critics have said some of those chemicals are hazardous to public health. Federal regulations extended all the way to the wells themselves.

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The Ute Indian tribe and four sates -- Colorado, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming -- have objected to federal regulations. The Independent Petroleum Association of American said it too had argued the government was overstepping its authority.

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"Independent producers are good stewards of our lands," IPAA CEO Barry Russel said in a statement. "We recognize that every energy-producing area has different needs and requirements, which is why the states are far more effective at properly regulating hydraulic fracturing than the federal government."

The Sierra Club, for its part, argued the federal government should have the authority to act as stewards for public health and the environment.

"While there is no way to ever make fracking safe, the oil and gas industry has repeatedly proven that it needs more standards to keep the public safe from the dangers of fossil fuels, not less," campaigner Lena Moffitt said.

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