North Dakota, Wyoming Sue U.S. To Keep Public From Getting Info on Fracking

North Dakota and Wyoming have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, seeking to prevent new rules that would require oil and gas companies to tell the public what kinds of chemicals they are pumping into the ground, and potentially the ground water, during hydraulic fracturing operations. 

On March 26, Wyoming’s Attorney General office filed a formal complaint in response to the new rules, followed by North Dakota on March 31. The two states claim that the new regulations represent an overreach that steps on state jurisdiction.

Both states have massive oil and gas mining presences, and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin was one of the first regions in the country that saw massive hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations.

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Residents of those states were also some of the first to complain about water pollution, air pollution, heavy truck traffic, and being strong-armed into allowing gas companies to build wells on their land.

Hydraulic fracturing involves the injection of a mixture of water, sands and fluids, the composition of which the gas industry has fought to keep secret, into the ground at extremely high pressure. This cracks open shale deposits and frees trapped natural gas, which can then be removed. Those fluids are then sucked from the ground and often disposed of in wastewater wells or through wastewater treatment plants.

Critics have linked fracking to a variety of pollutants, claiming it puts groundwater sources at risk and that increased truck traffic, air pollution and other problems can reduce property values and sicken nearby residents.

However, it has been almost impossible for the public to determine what kinds of chemicals the energy industry is pumping into the ground beneath them, as the companies have claimed that they are corporate secrets and have gotten some lawmakers to defend them from disclosure in recent energy bills.

The new rules by the Bureau of Land Management have been under consideration for about four years, and go into effect in June. They will require companies that drill on federal land to release the list of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process. They will also require tests to ensure that the wells are not leaking.

Critics say that the rules duplicate laws that already exist at the state level and claim that the new laws will delay companies from putting up even more wells for months or even years.

The new law also faces challenges from industry groups and lawmakers who have close ties to the energy industry.

Environmentalists, a number of lawmakers, local communities and consumer advocacy groups have expressed concerns for years that hydrofracking presents a threat to groundwater supplies and the environment.

The state of New York decided to ban hydraulic fracturing late last year, after a state study found questions and concerns regarding the safety of large-scale extraction wells.

State officials said that a six-year study’s findings indicate dozens of significant potential adverse impacts, and found that the risks of high-volume hydraulic fracturing outweigh any potential economic benefits.

Last year, a Texas jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to a family who sued a hydraulic fracturing company for being a public nuisance. According to allegations raised in a fracking lawsuit filed by the Parr family, nearly two dozen wells near their property caused a private nuisance, exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered property value.

Recently, a number of studies have shown that there may be a link between fracking and earthquakes, suggesting that the intense pressure from the unidentified fluids can cause ground tremors violent enough to damage property and cause injuries and possibly deaths.


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