Wyoming filed a federal lawsuit questioning the US Bureau of Land Management's new rules for hydraulic fracturing for onshore drilling on tribal and federal public lands. The states of North Dakota, Colorado, and Utah also joined or planned to join that litigation.
BLM outlined its final rule in March. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) directed his state's Attorney General's Office to petition for review of final agency action in US District Court for Wyoming.
Within days, North Dakota state officials decided to join the Wyoming lawsuit. During April, Colorado state officials joined Wyoming and North Dakota in the lawsuit. In May, Utah announced it wanted to join as well.
"BLM proposed this rule that exceeds their authority," Mead said. "This is troubling, both legally and from a policy standpoint." Wyoming implemented fracturing rules years ago that already "provide for the safe development of minerals," he said.
Wyoming's filing argued that BLM's rule conflicts with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, exceeds the US Department of the Interior agency's statutory regulations, and interferes with Wyoming's state fracturing regulations. The case was assigned to US District Judge Scott W. Skavdahl.
"I hope that whatever happens in the case, there is recognition that states like Wyoming should be rewarded for their leadership, not punished by having additional layers of regulation," Mead said.
BLM Director Neil Kornze told the US House Natural Resources Committee's Energy and Mineral Resource Subcommittee that the new rules would not preempt regulations in states that have imposed more stringent requirements, but provide a baseline where regulations don't exist yet.
When asked whether BLM intended to start regulating wellbore integrity or other operating standards, Kornze said he expected those issues to remain with states under memorandums of understanding that BLM will negotiate.
"Because BLM manages land scattered across the country, it's important for [it] to work with states and make sure the systems work efficiently."
North Dakota has had rules addressing fracturing and the required disclosure of chemicals since 2012 while Wyoming has had similar rules since 2010.
Lynn Helms, North Dakota Mineral Resources director, said the new federal rule could add "months or even years" to the permitting process and could hamper the drilling of thousands of wells in North Dakota alone.
In a Director's Cut note posted online Apr. 14 about preliminary NDIC statistics for February, Helms said the number of wells actively drilling on federal surface in the Dakota Prairie Grasslands during February remained unchanged at 0.
Activity on the Fort Berthold Reservation during February showed 9 drilling rigs and 110 wells waiting on completion. NDIC statistics also showed 1,447 active wells and 1,921 additional potential future wells on the reservation.
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who chairs the North Dakota Industrial Commission, said the state joined with Wyoming's litigation because he believed North Dakota had no choice but to protect its rights.
Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said the existing permitting process on federal and already is burdensome.
"This duplicates what this state and other states already have done," Ness said. "BLM already is overwhelmed and resource short" when it comes to staffing.
Att. Gen. Wayne Stenehjem said North Dakota lawmakers previously approved $1 million for litigation on issues such as fracturing regulations.
Colorado Att. Gen. Cynthia H. Coffman issued a statement Apr. 24 saying Colorado already has "robust" regulations in this area that are working. She said BLM exceeded its authority and was intruding on what has traditionally been state regulatory authority regarding fracturing.
She noted the lawsuit does not question the premise that fracturing should be regulated.
"It should be. And, Colorado is doing so," Coffman said. "The debate over hydraulic fracturing is complicated enough without the federal government encroaching on states' rights."
The American Petroleum Institute had said BLM's rules would impose additional costs and lead to delays.