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Federal Agency Launches Review of Fracking Risk on California Public Lands
New Environmental and Scientific Studies of Impacts of Fracking Begun in Response to Litigation
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - August 2 - The federal government today announced the start of two new analyses of fracking risks to California public lands. The Bureau of Land Management’s decision to begin developing a new “environmental impact statement” for fracking in Central California, along with a statewide independent scientific assessment of the dangerous oil extraction process, comes in the wake of a legal victory earlier this year in a suit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, which challenged the BLM’s decision to auction off about 2,500 acres of land in Monterey County to oil companies.
A federal judge ruled in April that the BLM had violated the law by not considering fracking risks or preparing an impact statement for its lease-sale decision. In mid-April the conservation groups filed a second case, challenging a subsequent and similarly flawed lease sale that covered almost 18,000 acres in the same region.
“We’re pleased that federal officials are finally starting the full analysis of fracking pollution’s dangers that should have been done before these public lands were auctioned off to oil companies,” said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Center, who argued the lawsuit for the plaintiffs. “Fracking these sensitive places threatens California’s air, water, wildlife and climate. In an era of dangerous climate change, the government should be protecting our remnant public lands, not leasing them out for fossil fuel development.”
Fracking employs huge volumes of water mixed with sand and toxic chemicals to blast open rock formations and extract oil and gas. The controversial technique is already being used in hundreds — and perhaps thousands — of California oil and gas wells. Oil companies are aggressively trying to frack the Monterey Shale, a large geological formation running beneath these federal leases believed to harbor about 15 billion barrels of oil.
“The BLM's decision to conduct a full EIS on fracking and drilling in the Monterey shale is a good first step toward understanding how destructive the process can be, and to what extent it pollutes our air and water,” said Nathan Matthews, associate attorney with the Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program. “The study will shed further light on the risks inherent in fracking and drilling for oil and gas. We should not be drilling for oil and gas unless those risks are understood and can be fully mitigated. Ultimately, for a stable climate and for public health, we need to keep oil, gas and other fossil fuels in the ground, while moving as quickly as possible to clean energy like wind and solar.”
Fracking has been tied to water and air pollution in other states, and the process can release huge quantities of methane, a dangerously potent greenhouse gas. Increased fracking threatens to unlock vast reserves of previously inaccessible fossil fuel deposits that would contribute to global warming and bring us closer to climate disaster.
Fracking also routinely employs numerous toxic chemicals, including methanol, benzene and trimenthylbenzene. A recent study from the Colorado School of Public Health found that fracking contributes to serious neurological and respiratory problems in people living near fracked wells, while also putting them at higher risk of cancer. Two recent studies in the journal Science found that injection wells, commonly used to dispose of contaminated fracking wastewater, can raise the risk of dangerous earthquakes.
The Bureau’s impact study will address the impacts of fracking in the region managed by the agency’s Hollister field office, which encompasses 280,000 acres of public lands and 440,000 acres of split-estate lands in Central California, including areas subject to leasing in Monterey, San Benito and Fresno counties. The independent scientific review will analyze the scope and impacts of fracking statewide.
Completion of the environmental impact statement and scientific review are likely to take more than a year. It is unlikely that further oil leasing and development activities can occur in the areas covered by the impact statement until its completion.
A court hearing originally scheduled for next week has been continued to allow the parties to discuss settlement of the two cases.