Feds crack moratorium on fracking
Bureau of Land Management releases final environment impact statement opening up 1 million acres of public land to oil drilling and fracking
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The federal government announced a proposal last week to open more than 1 million acres of public lands and minerals in the Central Valley to oil drilling and fracking.
The plan, first floated in draft form in April, would end a more than five-year moratorium on leasing federal public land in the state to oil companies.
The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Oct. 31 release its final environmental impact statement on fracking will allow fossil-fuel extraction on public lands across eight counties in California’s Central Valley and Central Coast: Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura.
“The results of this final supplemental analysis regarding the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, additive to those identified in the 2012 Final EIS, did not show a notable increase in total impacts,” the BLM stated in the environmental report. “No conflicts were found between the estimated impacts of hydraulic fracturing and the resource or program management goals and objectives stated 4 in the 2014 RMP [Resource Management Plan].”
The move follows the BLM’s recent decision to allow fracking on 725,500 acres across 11 counties in California’s Central Coast and Bay Area. On Oct. 30, conservation groups filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco to challenge that decision.
“Trump’s plan to hand over a million acres in California to the oil industry is a despicable attack on our state’s future,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Sacrificing these public lands to dirty drilling and fracking will worsen the climate crisis and expose California’s people and wildlife to toxic pollution. We’ll do everything possible to stop this.”
Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, is a technique used to extract natural gas from shale rock. Massive drills bore out holes thousands of feet beneath the surface. Hydraulic fluid, containing small amounts of chemical additives such as acid, is then pumped into the holes until the pressure causes the rock to crack, releasing the natural gas which flows up to the surface. According to the BLM, about 90 percent of new oil and gas wells on public lands are fracked.
The Final Supplemental EIS for the Bakersfield RMP responds to a May 2017, court order to prepare additional environmental analysis of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing. In settlement of the litigation, the BLM agreed to not hold any new oil and gas lease sales within the Bakersfield Field Office decision area until the final analysis is completed and a decision is issued. The Record of Decision is anticipated to be released in fall 2019.
The BLM has not issued a single new oil and gas lease in California since 2013, when a federal judge ruled that the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by issuing oil leases in Monterey County without considering fracking’s environmental dangers.
A 2016 report commissioned by Congress and published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), found scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances. The report, based upon review of over 1,200 cited scientific sources, cited drinking water impacts near fracking wells ranging from temporary changes in water quality, to contamination that made private drinking water wells unusable. This is primarily due to hydraulic fluids injected into the ground that make their way into groundwater.
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 toxic chemicals. 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.
BLM stated both of these reports were incorporated into the final environmental report.
Most of the land the BLM plans to open to the industry is in the San Joaquin Valley, which already has some of the most severe air pollution and water contamination in the country.
“The Central Valley already suffers from some of the worst air and water quality, and now Trump is giving away our public spaces to the oil and gas industry,” said Gustavo Aguirre Jr., Kern projects coordinator with Central California Environmental Justice Network. “Trump’s attack on our public lands is catastrophic for Central Valley air quality and community health. We need to protect our frontline communities from further toxic pollution.”
The BLM stated any oil and gas leasing would include stipulations applied to protect resources. It also said no new leases were issued, and no permits to drill have been approved with the finalization of environmental impact statement analysis. If proposed, new leases and requests for permits to drill and the potential impacts would be addressed at the site or project-specific level in a case-by-case environmental analysis.
The area slated for drilling and fracking is near spectacular public lands, including state parks, national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and Carrizo Plain National Monument. It’s also home to threatened and endangered animals, including San Joaquin kit foxes and California condors.
“This plan will degrade critical wildlife habitat, air quality, and parks and water resources that our communities depend on,” said Rebecca August, director of advocacy at Los Padres ForestWatch. “The entire process has been in the service of the Trump administration’s irresponsible pro-oil agenda. It’s sad to see such disregard for public health and the future of our public lands.”
Oil and gas development on BLM-managed public lands within the Bakersfield Field Office planning area generate approximately 3,500 jobs and more than $200 million in economic benefit annually. The BLM collects a 12.5% royalty on every barrel of oil and gas produced on Federal minerals, which ranges between $65-90 million per year. The BLM shares with California roughly 50% of oil and gas royalties collected with the remaining 50% in oil and gas royalties being paid to the Treasury. Public lands in California contribute to less than 10% of the total oil and gas activity in the state.