Block Drilling Legal Agreements, Fracturing on 1 Million Acres in Central California

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BAKERSFIELD, California– Community and conservation groups and the United States Bureau of Land Management today reached an agreement to suspend new oil and gas leases on more than one million acres of public land in the Central Valley and the central coast of California.

A separate agreement also requires the Bureau to conduct a new environmental scan before drilling is permitted on 4,000 acres leased in December 2020 in Kern County.

“These agreements require federal officials to disclose the damage caused by fracking to air, water, and communities in central California,” said Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “For decades, the people and wildlife of this region have paid the price for the dirty extraction of fossil fuels. This must stop and we will do everything we can to ensure that these pauses become permanent bans.”

Today’s agreements resolving the two cases follow two previous successful lawsuits by climate and community groups that have prevented new onshore oil and gas concessions in California from 2012 through 2020.

“Protecting public lands is not just a step forward, but also a way to avoid several steps back,” said Cesar Aguirre, a senior organizer with the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “Using public land to support the oil industry is dangerous for our green spaces and our communities. We must protect our public lands not just for our enjoyment, but for us in order to protect the Earth. Green spaces should not fall victim to oil drilling, especially since extraction sites are the epicenter of the climate crisis. The fewer approved epicenters there are, the less we back off.

In 2019, the Bureau broke the moratorium on leasing and reopened 1.2 million acres of federal public lands to drilling and fracking in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara counties. , Tulare and Ventura. This happened despite the opposition of 35,000 people and 85 community and advocacy groups.

Environmental justice, conservation and business groups and the state of California have filed lawsuits challenging the management plan, citing the Bureau’s failure to fully assess the significant damages of fracking to communities and l ‘environment.

“Today’s agreement protects the iconic landscapes that define central California, safeguards public health, and brings us closer to a cleaner energy future,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch. “Fossil fuel extraction has wreaked havoc on our public lands, farms and neighborhoods for far too long. We now have the opportunity to chart a new course for safe and healthy communities across our region.

“This agreement provides a long-awaited reprieve for local communities and neighboring national parks like Sequoia and Kings Canyon, which already face drought, high temperatures and annual wildfires due to climate change, as well as the ‘one of the worst air qualities in the country,’ said Mark Rose, Sierra Nevada program manager with the National Parks Conservation Association. “Opening up more than a million acres for oil and gas drilling in one of the most polluted regions in the country was a blatant move by the Bakersfield Bureau of Land Management under the previous administration, and we are happy to see the Biden administration taking action to protect California’s overstretched communities and environment.

“Central Valley residents and grassroots activists work every day to make their communities healthy, and today they have won a victory in the fight against air and groundwater pollution from oil and gas development. gas,” said Daniel Rossman, assistant California director at the Wilderness Society. “This agreement represents an important step in ensuring that our public lands are managed in a way that puts people, clean air, clean water and climate first over the profits of the fossil fuel industry. .”

“The future of our business depends on the health of the planet, especially the wild places loved by our community,” said Hans Cole, environmental activism manager at Patagonia. “We are grateful to have worked with our NGO partners to demand a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of drilling and hydraulic fracturing on public lands in central California. This is a victory for the environment. »

In December 2020, the Trump administration relied on the same flawed environmental review to auction off seven parcels of public land in Kern County for drilling and fracking. Conservation groups have also challenged the decision. The parcels sold include land located in an area of ​​critical environmental concern and land adjacent to the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

“Today’s victory is a testament to the grassroots activism of Central Valley communities, who have fought oil and gas leasing in their backyards and supported people, public health, wildlife and climate. “said Nathan Matthews, senior attorney for the Sierra Club. “The temporary halt to drilling on these lease parcels in Kern County is an important step toward halting the impermissible decision to open new federal Crown lands for oil and gas leases in the Central Valley, a region already overburdened by the impacts of oil and gas extraction. The Biden administration should put in place a moratorium on leasing oil and gas on federal public lands.

Developed leases would disproportionately harm local residents. According to the US Census Bureau, more than half of Kern County residents are Latinx and nearly 20% of residents live below the poverty line.

“This is a victory not only for the environment and the climate, but also for the people who call Kern County home,” said Hallie Templeton, Legal Director of Friends of the Earth. “It is a shame that the federal government tried to greenlight these leases without fully analyzing the impacts on the communities living nearby. Our victory also secured Spanish translation of relevant documents and live translation at public hearings, so that all stakeholders can truly have a seat at the table.

Further drilling would have intensified air and water pollution in the region, which already has some of the most polluted air in the country and faces water scarcity and drought.

“The Bureau has repeatedly authorized oil and gas development in central California without serious consideration of the serious consequences for local communities or the environment,” said Michelle Ghafar, senior counsel at Earthjustice. “The agency must halt and fully assess the community and environmental impacts of all oil and gas expansion it authorizes on public lands in order to comply with the law.”

Several analyzes also show that climate pollution from fossil fuel developments already in production around the world, if fully developed, would push warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius. According to the International Energy Agency, to avoid such warming, investment in new fossil fuel projects, including new federal oil and gas leases, must be halted.

“Fracking on California’s public lands in the midst of our climate and drought crisis has always been a pretty dubious idea and was downright unacceptable without proper environmental review,” said Ann Alexander, senior counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council. . “It’s crucial that the BLM take the time to assess what opening up this land to drilling would look like for local communities, who are already living with crippling water shortages and some of the worst air in the country.”

Today’s agreements are subject to court approval.

Background

Fossil fuel extraction on federal public lands causes nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States, worsening the climate and extinction crises and disproportionately harming to Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-wealth communities.

Peer-reviewed scientists estimate that a nationwide federal ban on fossil fuel leasing would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate policy proposals in the world. these last years.

Oil and gas extraction uses well pads, gas lines, roads and other infrastructure that destroy habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Oil spills, leaks and other damage from drilling have caused immense damage to wildlife and communities. Fracking and drilling also pollute watersheds and waterways that provide drinking water to millions of people.

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