The federal government effectively banned hydraulic fracturing on 1 million acres of public land in California as part of a legal settlement with environmental groups this week.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will halt plans to lease public land for fracking until it reworks a resource management plan to auctioned off drilling rights in California.
The Center for Biological Diversity’s (CBD), Earthjustice and local groups sued the BLM, alleging the agency didn’t consider all the potential environmental impacts of fracking in its regulatory review of opening up federal lands to drilling.
The settlement requires BLM to submit extremely strict environmental impact filings and will continue what CBD calls a “de facto leasing moratorium.” BLM hasn’t sold a single lease of public land in California for fracking since 2013.
“If energy development ever takes place on federally owned land in California it would be done under the world’s strictest oil and gas regulations, including the nation’s most comprehensive rules to ensure the safety fracking, which is a routine well-stimulation technique used here for over 50 years,” Dave Quast, California director of the pro-industry group Energy In Depth, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
CBD also challenged BLM’s assumptions about how much fracking would occur and alleged that opening up public lands to fracking could contaminate the state’s groundwater and cause earthquakes.
“This is a big victory for California and a major blow to Trump’s plan to turn our public lands over to oil companies,” Brendan Cummings, CBD’s conservation director, said in a statement. “Despite the petroleum industry’s stranglehold on the White House, these beautiful wild places are still off limits to drilling and fracking. That protects our water, wildlife and climate from fracking pollution.”
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 that fracking contaminates groundwater or causes earthquakes.
“Our hope is that this settlement puts the final nail in the coffin for BLM’s illegal practice of rubberstamping fracking in California without environmental review,” Greg Loarie, an Earthjustice attorney, said in the statement. “Fracking has no place in California’s clean, renewable energy future.”
U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald first halted BLM’s plan in September to allow drilling on 1 million acres of public lands in central California. He claimed BLM should have taken a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of fracking when making its decision, causing the agency to ultimately settle the case.
“[T]his legal settlement changes nothing, as there has been a moratorium on such development for years, limiting development in California has a negative environmental impact,” Quast said. “Californians use all the oil we produce, which is only 47 percent of the oil we need, meaning we import most of our oil – delivered by ship or rail – from places with laxer environmental protections.”
Seven countries in California already have de jure fracking bans, but most of these do not have a significant oil sector.
CBD and other environmentalists regularly sue federal agencies then settle the case with them behind closed doors and without input from industry or the public. This technique allows the green groups to effectively write federal regulations. CBD boasts on its website that these tactics will end most oil and gas production in the U.S.
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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