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Greens Fight California|Over Fracking Approval

SACRAMENTO (CN) - California officials "ignored science" by approving an environmental impact report for fracking a week before the release of a state-mandated study, an environmental group claims in state court.

The Center for Biological Diversity's 35-page complaint accuses the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and California Natural Resources Agency of violating the state's first fracking-disclosure law by drafting and approving a flawed EIR that downplayed the dangers of well stimulation.

Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the division to prepare the EIR, and the environmentalist group argues it purposely avoided a much-anticipated fracking study conducted by the California Council on Science and Technology.

The study, released one week after the division finalized its EIR, called for the state to limit fracking operators' use of certain chemicals and found a lack of data on the impacts of stimulation wells on the state's troubled groundwater supply.

"The governor and DOGGR simply refused to consider the science," Kassie Siegel, director of climate law for the Center for Biological Diversity, told Courthouse News. "The scientific review was illegally delayed by over six months."

California lawmakers passed the state's first fracking-disclosure law, Senate Bill 4, in 2013 and the fracking study was due by Jan. 1, 2015. But the study was then delayed six months and eventually released July 9, eight days after DOGGR's EIR deadline.

Siegel says DOGGR knew the study was coming and that the EIR "serves only as window dressing" and was rushed to purposely ignore the 447-page report.

"DOGGR defied what the Legislature told them to do in 2013," Siegel said. "That was the basic promise of SB 4, we will make decisions based on science in California."

Environmentalists have criticized Brown's handling of the division since he took office in 2011, and accuse him of lax oversight on California's large oil industry.

Brown has shuffled DOGGR's leadership over the last five years and the center calls the agency a "scandal-plagued oil agency."

Department of Conservation spokesman Don Drysdale told Courthouse News it cannot comment on the pending litigation filed in Sacramento County Superior Court.

Last week, Brown announced that he's created a panel to study ways to monitor and regulate the fledgling fracking industry. The panel will be comprised of personnel from nine separate state agencies.

Aside from ignoring the science council's study, the complaint says the EIR is riddled with errors and false statements. The EIR wrongly lists 11 aquifers as exempt from environmental protections and fails to analyze the risks of dumping chemicals used in fracking operations into groundwater supplies, according to the complaint.

Last week more than 100 protesters rallied in a South Los Angeles neighborhood, voicing opposition against oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing sites that are allowed near schools and communities.

The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment filed a lawsuit earlier this month on behalf of a man in Kern County who claims his daughter was injured and scared to go to school because of nearby wells.

Rodrigo Romo's lawsuit criticizes the state for laws that allow the oil industry to drill wells near schools without boundary regulations. Under state law, oil companies do not have to inform parents or schools that they intend to operate near a school and communities are not able to contest or "setback" new wells.

More anti-fracking protests are planned Saturday across the state, with 15 cities expected to participate, according to Linda Capato of activist group

Meanwhile, Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity says despite Brown's environmental accomplishments and his "champion of the environment" moniker, he must follow the lead of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and stop issuing fracking permits.

"Climate leaders don't frack. Fracking not only poisons our air and water, it opens up vast new reserves of unconventional fossil fuels that have to stay in the ground," Siegel said.

The group is asking the court to invalidate the EIR and to ban further fracking permits until an updated EIR is completed.

Besides Siegel, the center is also represented by Deborah Sivas from Stanford Law School.

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