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Legal Settlement Halts Effort to Open 1 Million Acres in California to Oil Drilling, Fracking

Victory: Agreement preserves moratorium on leasing public lands to oil industry
An oil pumpjack towers above almond orchards in Shafter, CA, a small city in Kern County.

An oil pumpjack towers above almond orchards in Shafter, Calif., a small city in Kern County.

"Red and White" by Sarah Craig/Faces of Fracking
May 4, 2017
Los Angeles, CA —

Conservationists have forced the Trump administration to halt plans to open more than 1 million acres of public land and mineral estate in California to oil drilling and fracking. The victory preserves a four-year-old moratorium on leasing federally owned land in the state for oil and gas development.

The legal settlement, approved Wednesday, resolves a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch, represented by Earthjustice. The agreement requires the Bureau of Land Management to rework a resource-management plan that would have auctioned off drilling rights on vast stretches of public land in California’s Central Valley, the southern Sierra Nevada, and Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties.  

“This is a big victory for California and a major blow to Trump’s plan to turn our public lands over to oil companies,” said Brendan Cummings, the Center’s conservation director. “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.”

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. The new settlement will continue that de facto leasing moratorium.

“This agreement ensures that public lands along California’s central coast—and the communities that depend on them—are protected from the harmful effects of oil drilling and fracking,” said ForestWatch Executive Director Jeff Kuyper. “Our region’s wildlife, clean water and scenic landscapes are too valuable to sacrifice to development.”

“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,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie, who represented the groups. “Fracking has no place in California’s clean, renewable energy future.”

The settlement means that the BLM must now complete a new analysis of the pollution risks of fracking, which blasts toxic chemicals mixed with water underground to crack rocks.

The public lands at stake in today’s settlement encompass “numerous groundwater systems that contribute to the annual water supply used by neighboring areas for agricultural and urban purposes,” a federal judge noted last year.

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.