The District Court of Wyoming granted a request by the Department of Justice to delay briefings in the case against the Bureau of Land Management’s venting and flaring rule, despite opposition from Western Energy Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA).

Critics of the venting and flaring rule say it is costly and unnecessary.  The industry group’s court filings indicate the rule will impose $115 million in costs between now and the January 17, 2018 compliance deadline.

Major portions of Obama-era regulation is set to go into effect January 17, 2018, but earlier this month the Department of the Interior announced plans to delay the ruling for an additional year.  The Trump Administration plans to rewrite the rule and has begun the formal procedure of suspending it, but it is unclear if that process will be completed in time.  The comment period is open until Nov. 6, and BLM is set to decide whether or not to suspend the rule by Dec. 8.

Due to the uncertainty, both the Alliance and IPAA filed for a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming on Friday in order to seek relief from upcoming compliance deadlines.  Late Monday the judge announced a hearing scheduled for December 18th in Casper to hear the merits of the case as well as the preliminary injunction.

The judge granted the government’s motion to extend the briefing schedule by 37 days. The government’s and state and environmental group intervenors’ response briefs are now due December 11th.

It is the latest step taken in an extensive legal back and forth between industry and environmentalists regarding the proposed regulation.

“The twists and turns of this case have been a bit confusing to anyone watching the legal maneuvering,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of Western Energy Alliance, on Friday. “Our preliminary injunction request is necessary to ensure companies do not have to comply with a rule that is being completely rewritten by the agency.”

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, and no guarantee that the rule will be formally delayed, industry is faced with the need to start complying with a regulation that may or may not actually go into effect.  The Regulatory Impact Analysis conducted in 2016 puts the cost of the rule at around $114 to $279 million per year.  A separate, independent analysis estimates a cost of $110,000 per new well.

“The timing for our member companies to make business decisions on the final rule is fast approaching,” said Dan Naatz, Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Political Affairs at IPAA.  “It makes little sense for companies to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to prepare for compliance with a rule that will inevitably change under the Trump Administration.”

If BLM does indeed decide to suspend the venting and flaring rule ahead of the Dec. 18th hearing, that decision will take precedence and companies will not be forced into compliance until 2019.

Western Wire is a project of Western Energy Alliance.