The Southern Utes have a 1,059-square-mile reservation in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. There are roughly 9,500 tribal members.
The June 18 federal lawsuit challenges a BLM final rule published in the Federal Register on March 26, which requires a federal permit to frack on tribal and public land. (80 Fed. Reg. 16128.)
The Utes say this violates the Indian Mineral Leasing Act, under which the Ute tribe has authority over its own land, and does not need federal permission to frack if it chooses. The tribe has passed its own fracking rules, which differ from the BLM’s.
“The tribe’s regulations provide more protection for aquifers with less bureaucratic morass,” said Bob Zahradnik, director of the Southern Ute Growth Fund.
“It’s a win-win. Our regulations are compatible with Colorado’s regulations, and they also avoid the pre-approval delays that will be caused by the BLM’s hydraulic fracturing rule.”
The Utes’ attorney Thomas Shipps added: “The tribe is challenging the lawfulness of the regulations because they fail to recognize the power of the tribe to regulate that same activity under existing regulations. The Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council has passed its own rule which, it purports, supersedes the federal rule. They’re asserting that the BLM final rule is unlawful because it fails to recognize the power of the tribe.”
Colorado, Wyoming, and North Dakota challenged the BLM rule separately, as have the Western Energy Alliance and Independent Petroleum Producers.
If enacted, the rule would apply to 750 million acres of tribal and public lands.
Fracking, which involves injecting chemical-laden water underground to crack rock formations and make it easier to extract oil and gas, has been blamed for water contamination and even earthquakes. Homeowners have sued oil companies when tap water in their homes became flammable.
EarthJustice, an environmental nonprofit, sides with the government on this one. It said the BLM rule is a step toward safer fracking standards, and should be upheld.
“Our public lands belong to all Americans,” EarthJustice attorney Michael Freeman said. “They should be managed under strong national standards that protect our water, land and wildlife – not just to benefit oil and gas companies.”
The BLM rule is to take effect Wednesday.
The Utes want the rule vacated and an injunction preventing its enforcement.
The BLM’s parent agency, the Department of the Interior, also is a defendant.
Attorney Shipps’ office is in Durango.
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