Process Could End 5-year Moratorium on Leasing Federal Land to Oil Companies
BAKERSFIELD, Calif.— The Trump administration today took the first step in a process that could open more than a million acres of public land and mineral estate in central California to oil drilling and fracking. The move could end a five-year-old moratorium on leasing federal public land in the state to oil companies.
Today’s notice from the Bureau of Land Management seeks comments on the potential harms of fracking in 400,000 acres of public land and an additional 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.
“This step toward opening our beautiful public lands to fracking and drilling is part of the Trump administration’s war on California,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We desperately need to keep these dirty fossil fuels in the ground. But Trump is hell-bent on sacrificing our health, wildlife and climate to profit big polluters.”
In 2015 the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch, represented by Earthjustice, successfully sued the BLM for approving a resource management plan allowing oil and gas drilling and fracking on vast stretches of California’s public lands without adequately analyzing and disclosing the impacts of fracking on air quality, water and wildlife.
As a result of the groups’ legal victory, the BLM agreed to complete a new analysis of the pollution risks of fracking before deciding whether to allow drilling and fracking on public land across California’s Central Valley, the southern Sierra Nevada and in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties.
The BLM has not held a single lease sale in California since 2013 when a federal judge first ruled that the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by issuing oil leases in Monterey County without considering the environmental dangers of fracking.
Fracking is an extreme oil-extraction process that blasts toxic chemicals mixed with water underground to crack rocks. The public lands at stake encompass “numerous groundwater systems that contribute to the annual water supply used by neighboring areas for agricultural and urban purposes,” a federal judge noted in 2016.
A 2015 report from the California Council on Science and Technology concluded that fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, dangerously close to underground drinking water supplies, with unusually high concentrations of chemicals, including substances dangerous to human health and the environment.
Today’s announcement comes after San Luis Obispo residents, concerned about the harms fracking poses to their county, placed a voter initiative on the November election ballot. If passed, Measure G will ban fracking and new oil and gas wells in San Luis Obispo County.
“It’s great that BLM is finally going to look at this problem,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney at Earthjustice. “But analyzing the impacts of fracking is like analyzing the impacts of smoking cigarettes: there’s really no question that more fracking would be terrible for California.”
The BLM’s 30-day comment period for the proposal begins today.