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Jun 22, 5:57 PM EDT

Judge to consider suspending new federal drilling rules



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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- A judge in Casper is about to consider whether to suspend new rules for oil and gas drilling on federal land until a lawsuit contesting those rules can be resolved.

Four states and two petroleum industry groups are suing the U.S. Interior Department, saying the rules announced in March duplicate state rules and could prove unnecessarily burdensome for the oil and gas industry.

The rules are set to take effect Wednesday. But those suing have asked a judge to suspend their implementation while the lawsuit moves ahead. U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl has scheduled arguments for and against granting that request at a hearing Tuesday in Casper.

Skavdahl has set aside up to six hours for the hearing - three hours for each side - after which he would need to act quickly if he were to suspend the rules before they took effect next day.

The plaintiffs are Colorado, North Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, the Western Energy Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Utah is latest to join the case.

"Developers will flee Utah as a simple cost-avoidance measure, both during the weakened oil market and after," attorneys for the state argued in court documents.

The rules would cost the oil and gas industry an additional $11,000 to $97,000 per well, according to the filing.

Six environmental groups are siding with the federal government in the case. Strong standards to protect water, land and wildlife are needed to protect federal lands, say the Sierra Club, Earthworks, Western Resource Advocates, Conservation Colorado Education Fund, The Wilderness Society and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

The law firm Earthjustice is representing the environmental groups.

The federal rules include new standards for constructing wells and for disclosing chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. The process involves pumping large volumes of water mixed with fine sand and chemicals into wells to crack open deposits and aid the flow of oil and gas.

The rules would require petroleum developers to disclose the chemical products they use to facilitate fracking through a national online database.

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