Feds to Open 1.2 Million Acres in California to Fracking Leases

(CN) – The Trump administration announced Thursday that it will open 1.2 million acres in California to fracking, ending a five-year moratorium on the controversial method of oil and gas extraction in the Golden State.

An oilfield in Bakersfield, California. (AP file photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Bureau of Land Management said it found no undue environmental harm from hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, and would entertain oil and gas leases in BLM-managed lands throughout the southern part of the state.

“The BLM’s analysis shows that there are no adverse environmental impacts due to hydraulic fracturing that cannot be alleviated,” the agency said in a statement.

The news was met with considerable ire from conservation and environmental groups and sets up yet another showdown between the federal government and California. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra blasted the move in a statement Thursday and hinted the state would take legal action – as it has done over 60 times against the Trump administration – to keep fracking out of the state.

“The Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management wants to expose more than a million acres of public land in Central California to drilling and fracking using a patently deficient environmental impact study. That’s not how we do things in California,” Becerra said. “We’re prepared to do whatever we must to protect the health and safety of our people. We intend to be good stewards of our public lands.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a little under a month ago that California would no longer allow oil companies to use highly pressurized water and steam injection techniques to extract oil and gas until the state conducted a thorough review.

Fracking involves the injection of pressurized liquid into surface layers of the earth, causing sections to break or fracture and release natural gas, oil or other desired materials from various deposits.

Proponents point to the economic and energy development advantages presented by the process. Critics say the method of extraction is dangerous, having the potential to contaminate groundwater aquifers and destroy drinking water sources in and around well sites.

“Fracking and other development on or near lands that are set aside specifically to protect threatened wildlife, critical water supplies, and rare ecosystems will cause significant impacts,” said ForestWatch executive director Jeff Kuyper.

Kuyper and others castigated the BLM for using the opportunity to review the effects of fracking as a means to promote Trump’s aggressive energy development agenda on public lands rather than take a scientifically sober look at fracking’s impact on the climate, water table and local ecosystems.

“More fracking, with its with water and air pollution, earthquakes, and chemical spills, is the opposite direction that Californians want to go,” said Rebecca August, Advocacy Director at Los Padres ForestWatch. “The Trump administration dismissed the voices of thousands of residents as part of its nationwide effort to cut the public out of decisions that impact their communities and environment.”

The decision relates to lands located mostly within the San Joaquin Valley, the area of California’s Central Valley south of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. The area leans conservative and is one of the only remaining bastions of support for President Donald Trump in California.

The area subject to new oil and gas development as a result of the review includes areas in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.

Many of the areas included in the review have some of the worst air quality in California and the nation.

“The oil and gas industry in our valley is already the largest stationary source of regional air pollution, pumping out fine particle pollution that is directly connected to asthma and heart attacks, alongside volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrate that contribute to the formation of lung-damaging smog,” said Genevieve Gale, executive director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition. “Adding insult to injury, oil and gas production releases toxic air contaminants, such as benzene and formaldehyde, that are known cancer-causing agents. Our valley cannot take any more.”

The decision only makes leases available. It is unclear if oil and gas companies will pursue leases on the land when a legal dispute between the state and the federal government is possible.

The BLM says oil and gas development within the Bakersfield Office Area alone is responsible for 3,500 jobs and approximately $200 million in economic benefits annually.

A 12.5% royalty is collected on every barrel produced on lands managed by the agency. California is entitled to half the proceeds from the royalty.

The BLM further noted that less than 10% of the oil and gas produced in California come from federally managed lands.

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