By Nathan Solis
The Trump administration disclosed plans to open over 1 million acres in central California to oil drilling and fracking on Thursday, the federal government undeterred by the fact that no new drilling leases have been issued since 2013.
The 174-page draft report from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management presents a plan to open public and federal lands to fossil fuel extraction and the area would spread across multiple counties, including Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura.
Several environmental groups challenged the BLM’s framework plan that opened the land to fracking in 2013 and a settlement was reached in the Central District of California in 2017 that required the federal government to study the effects of blasting water and chemicals into underground rock to create fissures for oil extraction.
The settlement agreement also blocked the federal government from auctioning any new drilling rights on public lands for at least a year.
BLM’s draft report released in 2019 offers insight into how pollutants and emissions would be monitored, but clearly states any unavoidable adverse effects from fracking are the same as they were in a 2012 final environmental impact study.
Instead, the draft report is a “hard look” at the impacts of hydraulic fracturing.
The Center for Biological Diversity, one of several plaintiffs who challenged BLM’s original plan, views the new draft proposal as putting Californians and wildlife in harm’s way.
“This administration is dead set on letting oil and gas companies dig up every last drop of dirty fuel. Putting these public lands back at the mercy of the fossil fuel industry would be a huge blow to our state’s future,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the center.
Drilling sites would be located on 400,000 acres of public lands and 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate, according to the draft report.
BLM says that the amount of water used in a year for a fracking operation pales in comparison to water used for the Golden State’s agriculture operations and the report claims there has been no seismic activity triggered by fracking operations in California.
But some dust and soil from operations could drift to nearby communities, and at least 4.9 tons of nitrogen oxide could be emitted from the sites per year, per one scenario explored in the draft report.
“There’s no place for this backward plan in California’s clean energy future,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney at Earthjustice, another group who challenged BLM.