Federal Court Grants Judgment to Ute Indian Tribe, Voids Attempt to Regulate Fracking on Indian Lands

Federal courthouse in Casper, Wyoming

Federal courthouse in Casper, Wyoming

Published June 23, 2016

CASPER, WYOMING – The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation achieved another significant victory on June 21 when the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming permanently enjoined the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from imposing debilitating fracking rules on the Ute Indian Tribe and its industry partners and then followed that up with a final judgment in favor of the Tribe on June 22, 2016.

The case was initially filed by the states of Wyoming, North Dakota, and several associations of energy producers, and the Ute Indian Tribe intervened in the case to ensure that the interests of the Tribe were adequately represented and to prevent the extreme harm which the BLM’s rule would have caused the Tribe’s economy. On September 30, 2015, the District Court entered a preliminary injunction barring implementation of the rule, and the June 21 and 22, 2016 orders extends that into a permanent injunction and a final judgment in favor of the Tribe.

Before BLM published the rule that the federal court has now enjoined, the Ute Tribe had attempted to prevent application of the rule to Ute lands and had sought to work with the BLM on a government-to-government basis, but BLM failed to engage in that consultation. After BLM had formulated the rules that it wanted to impose upon tribes, BLM made pretenses of seeking to consult with tribes, and then changed exactly one word in the lengthy and complex rule based upon its “consultation” with tribes.

BLM asserted that the Indian Minerals Leasing Act and the Indian Minerals Development Act provided it with authority to adopt fracking regulations on Indian lands. The District Court agreed with the Tribe that neither act gave BLM that authority.

On behalf of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee, Chairman Shaun Chapoose issued the following statement: “BLM’s fracking rule stems from the same form of federal paternalism which has historically been very harmful to tribes and Indian people. It was particularly insulting here, where the Tribe and Indians generally have a longer and much better record of protecting the environment than the United States. The Tribe is already effectively regulating fracking and all other aspects of oil and gas production, and adding yet another layer of regulation would only have driven production to off-reservation locations. We are pleased that the District Court has struck this misguided BLM rule.”

“Through our actions and willingness to take on this fight with the United States, the working with the energy producing organizations which were co-plaintiffs in the case, has again protected the rights of all tribes and the economies of all energy producing tribes. The Court not only prohibited the fracking rule from taking effect on the Ute Reservation, but on all tribal land throughout the United States. This case serves as a testament to the Tribe’s determination to protect its resources and exercise its jurisdiction and sovereign authority.”

“The success of the Ute Tribe in this litigation is yet another example that the Department of Interior and its agencies are being held accountable to their obligations with the Indian nations to consult and act in the best interest of the Indians as the federal government performs their trust obligations to Indian tribes and individual Indians across this country. The day is over when BLM and other agencies of the federal government can bully tribes through ill-advised regulations that make development of federal trust resources of Indians less economic to develop by our industry partners.”




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