The Trump administration on Thursday released a plan to open up over 1 million acres of public and private land in California to oil drilling and fracking, which would end a five-year moratorium in the state on leasing federal public land to oil companies.
The Bureau of Land Management, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, released its 174-page “environmental impact statement” on Thursday with a proposal to open 1,011,470 acres of public land and federal mineral estate to fossil fuel extraction. The draft plan targets land in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.
In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the government had violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued oil leases in California’s Monterey County without taking into account the environmental dangers posed by fracking.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process for fossil fuel extraction that involves injecting liquid at high pressure underground to crack open rocks and extract oil or gas.
Following the 2013 ruling, which was the result of a lawsuit filed by advocacy groups Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch, the BLM halted lease sales in California’s Central Valley until it could complete an environmental review of the risks of fracking. A district judge again in 2016 overturned a renewed plan from the federal government to open the land up to drilling and fracking.
A federal court last year also ordered the Trump administration to halt permits for offshore fracking in federal waters off the California coast.
Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said Thursday’s environmental impact statement is the government’s response to the lawsuit her organization brought in 2015, and that it may set the stage for further legal action.
“Litigation is always something that is on the table when the administration ignores the law and puts our health, our climate and our public lands at risk,” Lakewood told HuffPost. “What we’re seeing with this draft is an agency that is ignoring the rules to rush out a plan that suits the fossil fuel industry, at the expense of Californians.”
The California Council on Science and Technology concluded in a 2015 report that fracking in the state is typically done at shallow depths, posing the risk that underground drinking water aquifers could be contaminated by toxic chemicals. A federal judge noted in 2016 that the public lands in question hold “numerous groundwater systems that contribute to the annual water supply used by neighboring areas for agricultural and urban purposes.”
Genevieve Gale, executive director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, said the administration’s renewed plan could put Californians in danger.
“Oil and gas extraction is one of the largest industrial polluters in the San Joaquin Valley, emitting dangerous particle pollution, smog-forming volatile gases and toxic air contaminants,” Gale said in a statement. “Additional air pollution from expanded operations adds insult to injury, keeping Valley residents at risk and limiting our ability to achieve clean air.”
There will be a 45-day period for public comment on the agency’s proposal, after which the Interior Department is expected to determine how to proceed.