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Judge Strikes Down Obama Rule on Fracking on Public Lands

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Amy Harder, The Wall Street Journal

A federal judge in Wyoming made permanent a temporary block of an Interior Department rule setting stricter standards for hydraulic fracturing on public lands, a blow to President Barack Obama’s environmental agenda in the sunset of his administration.

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl issued a ruling late Tuesday invalidating the regulation, saying the Interior Department lacked the authority to issue it. The same judge last year issued a preliminary injunction blocking the rule until he made a final decision.

The rule, issued by department’s Bureau of Land Management in March 2015, applies to oil and gas drilling on federal lands, which produce 11% of the natural gas consumed in the U.S. and 5% of the oil, according to government data.

Much of this drilling is concentrated in Western states, such as Colorado and Wyoming, two of the states challenging the standards. More than 90% of new land-based wells in the U.S. use hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.

“Congress has not delegated to the Department of the Interior the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing,” the judge wrote in a 27-page ruling. “The BLM’s efforts to do so through the fracking rule is in excess of its statutory authority and contrary to law.”

The government could appeal the ruling.

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