Trump Administration Sued Over Plan to Open California to Fracking

(CN) – A consortium of conservation groups sued the Trump administration Tuesday to try and stop it from opening a million acres of public lands in Central California for oil and gas drilling.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, claiming the Bureau of Land Management failed to consider threats to wildlife and recreation or climate change and air pollution when it approved reopening the land tracts to potential drilling.

“Trump’s illegal, deeply unjust fracking plan would be a disaster for Central Valley communities, as well as our climate, wildlife and water,” said Clare Lakewood, attorney at the center, in a statement. “We need to phase out fracking and oil drilling, not throw open our public lands to polluters.”

The Trump administration released its analysis in December, saying hydraulic fracturing would cause no “undue” harm to the environment. The plan called for opening federally managed land to fracking in eight California counties in the state’s expansive Central Valley and Central Coast – Fresno Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura.

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.

The center and other conservation groups mentioned groundwater contamination in the suit filed Tuesday.

“California is trying to find a way to rationally address its limited water supply, and now BLM is greenlighting activities that can contaminate it with toxic chemicals,” said Ann Alexander, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

California has taken steps to limit fracking within its borders, with Governor Gavin Newsom saying 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 conducts a thorough review.

The Golden State, which frequently asks the courts to adjudicate its disputes with the Trump administration, also threatened legal action when the BLM announced the action in December.

“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,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in December.

President Donald Trump has long vowed to use public lands as part of his plan to make the United States a dominant force in the energy sector.

The Trump administration also revealed plans to open an additional 725,000 acres of land in California to fracking. The land in question is managed by a different branch of the BLM, but their conclusions about the lack of adverse effects to the environment were similar in both cases.

The plans affect eight counties in California. Conservation groups sued this past October to try and stop that proposed change.

The Department of Interior touted the economic benefits of energy development on public lands when it announced – also this past October – that it disbursed about $11.7 billion in proceeds collected from operations on federally managed lands.

“The president believes we can appropriately develop our natural resources and be great stewards of conservation,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. “The disbursements paid to states and tribes from energy development revenues go right back to the communities where the energy was produced, providing critical funding for schools, public services, conservation improvements, and infrastructure projects that create good-paying American jobs.”

But environmentalists say those economic benefits carry huge costs to the environment, the atmosphere and the social health of those who live in proximity to drilling operations.

“For years (our) staff has monitored emissions from oil and gas facilities and has documented that residents living near pumpjacks and storage tanks are constantly exposed to benzene and other VOCs [volatile organic compounds] that are carcinogenic,” said Nayamin Martinez, director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “We need to protect our communities from further toxic pollution, not increase their exposure.”

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