Judge Sides With Enviros To Block Fracking In California

(Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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A federal judge sided with environmentalists by halting plans to hydraulically fracture, or frack, for oil and natural gas on public lands in California.

U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald halted a U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plan to allow drilling on 1 million acres of public lands in central California. He said a federal agency’s environmental plan should have taken a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of fracking when making its decision.

Environmentalists at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and local green groups sued the BLM, alleging that fracking risks groundwater contamination and can create earthquakes. CBD believes that BLM didn’t consider all the potential environmental impacts of fracking in its regulatory review of opening up federal lands to drilling. CBD also challenged BLM’s  assumptions about how much fracking would occur.

BLM argued it had done its due diligence when it issued its environmental review of more drilling on federal lands — indeed, other federal agencies and the vast majority of scientists reject CBD’s claims fracking contaminates groundwater.

Fitzgerald disagreed and halted BLM’s decision until the “unique risks and concerns associated with fracking” were addressed.

Fitzgerald, however, also ruled that CBD wanted far more than what BLM was required to do by law. Fitzgerald asked both sides for a further briefing on Sept. 21, so the case’s final outcome isn’t clear.

CBD has a long history of pursuing legal action against even environmentally friendly development, to block the creation of solar-farms out of fear they would encroach on 32 endangered desert tortoises or blocking the construction of green buildings.

CBD was considering more lawsuits to block offshore fracking in California, but findings published in June by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement overturned a legal settlement between CBD and the Obama administration to halt offshore fracking. The settlement had prevented any new offshore fracking permits from being issued in California until the agencies could perform an analysis of the potential environmental impacts of offshore fracking.

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