The Trump administration on Wednesday took the first step toward lifting a five-year moratorium on leasing federal lands in California to oil companies in a move that conservationists warn could open up more than a million acres to fracking.
"This step toward opening our beautiful public lands to fracking and drilling is part of the Trump administration's war on California."
—Clare Lakewood, Center for Biological Diversity
"We desperately need to keep these dirty fossil fuels in the ground. But Trump is hell-bent on sacrificing our health, wildlife, and climate to profit big polluters," declared Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a notice of intent in the Federal Register on Wednesday detailing plans to prepare a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analyzing the potential impact of fracking on federal lands in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura counties
BLM's filing follows a move by residents of San Luis Obispo to propose a ballot measure—to be voted on in November—that would ban fracking and new oil and gas wells county-wide. It also comes after a successful lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch—represented by Earthjustice—against BLM for a 2015 resource management plan that would have enabled oil and gas drilling and fracking on the state's public lands without first studying environmental impact.
After the agency's notice on Wednesday, Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie said: "It's great that BLM is finally going to look at this problem. ...But analyzing the impacts of fracking is like analyzing the impacts of smoking cigarettes: there's really no question that more fracking would be terrible for California."
"Analyzing the impacts of fracking is like analyzing the impacts of smoking cigarettes: there's really no question that more fracking would be terrible for California."
—Greg Loarie, Earthjustice
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Lakewood asserted that "this step toward opening our beautiful public lands to fracking and drilling is part of the Trump administration's war on California."
Pointing to the ongoing fight between the state and the Trump administration over who has the authority to set vehicle emissions rules—which the administration wants to weaken—Lakewood, in an interview with The Hill, denounced the federal government's recent moves as "a coordinated attack."
"You can't justify drilling for fossil fuels anymore," she concluded. "There is no way to come out with an environmental analysis and find out this is OK."
The development comes as wildfires continue to rage across the state and Trump's Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke—a vocal advocate of opening up public lands to fossil fuel corporations—turned to the USA Today opinion page on Wednesday to blame the unprecedented fires on "radical environmentalists." Critics accused Zinke of of exploiting the climate-fueled crisis to benefit the logging industry.
Experts and environmentalists have raised concerns about the environmental impact of fracking—or injecting a mix of water and chemicals into rocks to release oil and natural gas—including the likelihood of polluting nearby water resources, increasingly the frequency of earthquakes, degrading regional air quality, threatening wildlife, and generating planet-warming emissions.
Additionally, a "blistering" analysis released in March by Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility found the process poses a serious public health threat, with workers and community members in heavily fracked regions experiencing heightened cases of "sleep disturbance, headache, throat irritation, stress/anxiety, cough, shortness of breath, sinus, fatigue, wheezing, and nausea."