The Interior Department under President Donald Trump is planning to revoke a rule that would have regulated fracking on federal lands, according to the administration's Wednesday court filing (pdf).
"This is a political decision intended to circumvent the rule of law and deliver a gift to the oil and gas industry at the expense of public safety."
—Mike Freeman, EarthjusticeThe move is the climate change-denying administration's latest effort to undo fossil fuel regulations and boost the profits of the oil and gas industry.
While the 2015 rule was criticized at the time by environmentalists for not going far enough to limit fracking in the U.S., it was blocked by a Wyoming federal court in 2016 when the judge decided that the federal government didn't have the authority to regulate fracking. The rule would have been the first to limit fracking on public and tribal lands.
Currently, 90 percent of oil wells on public lands are fracked, according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The Trump administration's move provoked immediate outrage.
"This is a political decision intended to circumvent the rule of law and deliver a gift to the oil and gas industry at the expense of public safety," Earthjustice attorney Mike Freeman told E&E News. "What the Trump administration wants is to go back to using outdated 30-year-old regulations that BLM itself recognizes failed to address threats to public health from modern fracking."
"With today's decision, Trump is making it clear that he thinks we need more fracking operations contaminating our drinking water, causing earthquakes, and polluting our environment, not less," said the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign director Lena Moffitt.
Even former Interior employees are weighing in. Former Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes, who served in the department in the Clinton and Obama administrations and helped to create the 2015 rule, described the current administration's behavior as "disturbing."
"Some elements of the oil and gas industry obviously asked the Interior Department to step away from fracking regulation, and this administration has shown a disturbing propensity to do what some in the oil and gas industry want them to do," Hayes told E&E News. "The reason it's particularly disturbing is that a fundamental responsibility of the federal government as a steward of the public lands is at issue here."
"Really, [Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is] backing away from a long overdue and very modest effort to deal with some of the admittedly huge challenges with the growth of hydraulic fracturing on BLM lands," Michael Saul, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney, commented to E&E News.
"Backing away from these modest rules is doubly dangerous given the administration’s reckless plans to ramp up fracking and drilling on public lands across America," Saul added to the Washington Post. "Federal rules are critical because state rules in places like Oklahoma have been appallingly slow to confront air pollution, man-made earthquakes, and other serious harms caused by oil companies."