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Judge allows fracking rules to move ahead

A federal court on Monday refused to halt the Obama administration's fracking regulations that go into effect Tuesday.

The rules restrict the venting and flaring of natural gas and methane from oil and gas wells as part of the Obama administration's broad climate agenda. Methane is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas that many climate scientists blame for driving manmade climate change.

Despite the unfavorable ruling, the oil and gas industry thinks it can win on the merits of its arguments.

The federal district court in Wyoming ruled that it "cannot conclude the rule enacted exceeds the secretary's authority or is arbitrary and capricious," according to the decision written by Judge Scott Skavdahl.

"Petitioners have not established their right to relief is clear and unequivocal," the judge added about the energy industry's request.

"Petitioners have failed to establish all four factors required for issuance of a preliminary injunction, so their respective motions must be denied," read the ruling, adding that the court "will, however, entertain respondents' suggestion of an expedited briefing schedule on the merits."

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance who asked for the injunction, was optimistic that the judge is allowing for an expedited briefing schedule. "Even though Judge Skavdahl did not grant a preliminary injunction, we're confident about our chances during the proceedings on the full merits of the case," she said.

The oil and natural gas industry and states suing the Interior Department over the regulations argue that the venting and flaring rule overstep the Bureau of Land Management's mandate by applying authorities that reside squarely with the Environmental Protection Agency and the states, not the Interior Department.

The industry also argues that its own internal standards and practices are reducing flaring and methane emissions venting as a matter of good business practices and without intervention by the federal government.

The judge's expedited hearing schedule begins with the government filing briefs by Feb. 21. After that, the plaintiffs will have 30 days to respond, with final defense briefs due 20 days after that.