By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took initial steps yesterday to open 1.6 million acres of California public lands to fracking and conventional oil drilling, ending a five-year moratorium on such practices in the state.
In its , the BLM announced it will analyze the impact of fracking thought the state and will prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and a potential Resource Management Plan. The BLM has solicited public comments according to a tight schedule; the comment period closes on September 7, 2018.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) noted in a press release, that the notice covers 400,000 acres of public land and an additional 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate, located in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura counties. It also provided background on thecurrent moratorium:
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.
In , Energy Wire discussed what followed from the US district court for the central district of California’s 2016 ruling in this action and its wider significance:
The parties then reached a settlement in May 2017 in which BLM agreed to suspend new leasing while conducting additional fracking analysis. The agency has continued to issue drilling permits on existing leases (, May 4, 2017).
The court ruling and subsequent settlement were big wins for critics of fracking and other modern oil and gas technology. Environmentalists have frequently used litigation to push BLM to study potential impacts, but courts have only sided with the groups in a few cases. In another landmark case, a judge in Northern California ordered BLM to take a closer look during the leasing stage at risks associated with fracking.
Fracking Controversial in California
The Sacramento Bee reported in that county supervisors in San Luis Obispo have placed a measure on the November ballot that would ban new oil exploration and new fracking operations in unincorporated regions of the county:
The measure’s leading proponent, Charles Varni of the Coalition to Protect San Luis Obispo County, said he was angered to hear of the Bureau of Land Management’s decision, which would affect pockets of land throughout the county but primarily in the eastern and northwestern areas.
“We don’t want to see any expansion of oil and gas extraction in San Luis Obispo County,” he said. “We want to protect our groundwater resources for higher uses.”
The CBD further emphasized:
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.
The Sacramento Bee reported that environmentalists have asked Governor Jerry Brown to ban the practice, citing the potential to contaminate groundwater and increase earthquake risks, while the energy industry applauded yesterday’s BLM move:
Kara Siepmann of the , the leading oil lobby in California, said the association is “supportive of BLM beginning the comprehensive evaluation and scoping process of federal lands in California.” Rock Zierman of the California Independent Petroleum Association, whose members include smaller oil companies, said expanded production could reduce the state’s growing dependence on imported oil.
Although Brown has allowed fracking to continue, the Legislature that requires energy producers to get additional permitting if they practice fracking. And earlier this year, when the Trump administration began the process of repealing all federal regulations of fracking, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra
The Hill reported in that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has consistently endorsed increasing drilling on public lands in order to increase lease sales.
Environmentalists will monitor the BLM’s next steps closely, with CBD senior attorney Clair Lakewood saying to The Hill, “her organization will be waiting to see how the administration justifies fracking in their analysis”:
“You can’t justify drilling for fossil fuels anymore, there is no way to come out with an environmental analysis and find out this is OK,” she said.
Lakewood said the timing on the notice of intent was also particularly striking. At the end of July, the administration announced it would be weakening Obama-era standards on vehicle emissions standards, a move that would take away California’s ability to set its own heightened regulations.
[Jerri-Lynn here: See this previous post for more on the conflict between Trump regulators and California on emissions standards, Trump Regulators and California on Collision Course on Rolling Back Fuel Efficiency Standards.]
Unsurprisingly, Trump has his own unique take on the situation. , . You cannot fault the man for not having views on any and all topics (whether they’re logical or well-considered, however…). From The Hill:
Recently, has criticized the Golden State over environmental standards he has deemed too strict. This week, he sent a series of tweets blaming the state’s policies on water and logging for the number of wildfires raging within its borders.
Allrighty then. I guess climate change has nothing to do with the infernos. Trump couldn’t possibly be wrong on such a matter of vital national interest, could he? Surely not!