(CN) — The Trump administration on Friday announced it was rescinding an Obama-era rule that tightened restrictions on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.
“Fracking,” as it is known, is a drilling method to force natural gas out of the ground. The process requires high amounts of water and chemicals, and environmentalists say the process is dangerous to water, wildlife and people.
But on Friday, the Bureau of Land Management directed Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to rescind the 2015 restrictions, which have been challenged in court as being too onerous for gas developers.
The BLM said in a statement Friday that eliminating Obama’s fracking rule “supports [the] president’s priorities for streamlining permitting” and reduces “the burden of federal regulations that hinder economic growth and energy development.”
The BLM also said the rule was unnecessary and duplicated existing regulations.
Obama’s rule, which went into effect in March 2015, was intended to ensure that natural gas wells were properly built to protect water, make certain the fluids flowing back to the surface as a result of hydraulic fracturing operations were managed in an environmentally responsible way, and provide public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids.
It also required energy companies to get a fracking permit from the BLM, and to disclose the water sources for the fracking, so the BLM could assess any impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act. In addition, the former rule required drillers to submit information about nearby gas wells to prevent those wells from being damaged from high-pressure fracking. And it required drillers to submit a list of the chemicals used in their drilling processes, which were to be listed on the public website “FracFocus.”
The 2015 rule was challenged in court soon after it was announced in the Federal Register. The District of Wyoming federal court stayed the rule before it went into effect, and later issued a final order setting aside the rule, concluding that it was outside the BLM’s statutory authority. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal of the decision and vacated the Wyoming District Court’s final order, instructing it to dismiss the case.
According to the BLM, about 1,700 natural gas wells were being drilled or were planned to be drilled in 2017. Of those wells, 90 percent would use hydraulic fracking to extract the natural gas, the BLM said.
Last December, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a finding that fracking contaminates water.
In a statement issued around the same time, Mark Ruffalo of the Americans Against Fracking coalition said, “At last the EPA confirms what independent science has overwhelmingly determined for years, that drilling and fracking contaminate drinking water. Across the country, Americans have had their lives turned upside down as fracking has poisoned the water coming out of their faucets and has made their families sick.”
“The EPA has rightly reported that fracking causes water contamination. For all of the Americans living with this tragedy every day, they are finally validated by the federal government,” Julia Walsh of Frack Action added in a statement.