AG Becerra slams Trump plan to open up oil 1.2 million acres to oil drilling in California

The Carrizo Plain National Monument is among the federal public lands now open to oil and gas drilling leases in California. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). | 

By Dan Bacher | 

SACRAMENTO – On December 12, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra blasted the Trump Administration’s decision to open up 1.2 million acres of public lands in Central California, mainly in the San Joaquin Valley, to oil and gas drilling, including environmentally destructive fracking.
Becerra made his comments after Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its final decision for the Bakersfield Field Office Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analyzing the potential effects of fracking of oil and gas resources on public lands and Federal minerals within the planning area, claiming there would be “no adverse impacts.” 
“The BLM’s analysis shows that there are no adverse environmental impacts due to hydraulic fracturing that cannot be alleviated,” the BLM claimed in a press release. “This Supplemental EIS supports the decisions made within the 2014 Bakersfield Field Office Resource Management Plan (RMP) and does not make any new public lands or Federal minerals available to oil and gas development.”
The Bakersfield Field Office planning area includes eastern Fresno, western Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.
Becerra disagrees strongly with the Trump Administration’s contention that “there are no adverse environmental impacts due to hydraulic fracturing that cannot be alleviated.”
“The Trump Administration’s Bureau of Land Management wants to expose more than a million acres of public land in Central California to drilling and fracking using a patently deficient environmental impact study,” said Attorney General Becerra. “That’s not how we do things in California. We’re prepared to do whatever we must to protect the health and safety of our people. We intend to be good stewards of our public lands.”
In June, Attorney General Becerra filed a comment letter responding to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM)’s draft supplemental environmental impact statement (EIS). Becerra said the  EIS is “deficient” and fails to “fully evaluate” the project’s impact on the communities and environment of Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura Counties.
“On April 26, 2019, BLM issued a draft supplemental EIS evaluating its plan to open more than one million acres of federal lands to oil and gas leasing,” according to Becerra. “Fracking is a procedure in which oil and gas producers inject water, sand, and certain chemicals at high pressure into tight rock formations to extract oil and gas. While most of the fluid is water, the process also includes toxic chemicals that pollute nearby groundwater and flow back to the surface for above-ground storage.”
“A growing body of evidence points to fracking as a significant cause of water and air pollution and low-level seismic events,” according to Becerra.
For example, a 2015 report from the California Council on Science and Technology concluded that fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, dangerously close to underground drinking-water supplies, with unusually high concentrations of toxic chemicals, according to environmental justice and conservation organizations.
The Trump administration comes after Governor Gavin Newsom on November 19 froze the approval of new fracking permits as a scientific study of fracking is conducted, although the total number of permits approved under the Newsom Administration still outpace those approved under Jerry Brown in 2018. State oil and gas regulators have not issued a new permit for fracking or acidizing in California since mid-July and have slowed the overall rate of permitting oil wells.
However, public interest groups Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance point out that state regulators have granted oil permits at a pace that is 8.8% greater in the first ten months of 2019 than in the same period last year under Governor Jerry Brown, based on an analysis of Department of Conservation data. 
Environmental justice groups and environmental groups also condemned the BLM’s decision to open over 1 million acres of public land to new oil drilling. Most of the land the BLM plans to open to the oil industry is in the San Joaquin Valley, a region that already suffers from the most severe air pollution in the country.
“California's Central Valley is ground zero for environmental injustices that are the result of poor land-use practices and politicians who side with big industry,” said Gustavo Aguirre Jr. Kern projects coordinator with Central California Environmental Justice Network, in a statement. “The way oil and gas extraction is permitted is a perfect example of this, and so is the most recent decision of the Bureau of Land Management allowing oil extraction in public lands, especially because these public lands are near disadvantaged rural communities and even next to the Cesar Chavez Monument. Allowing oil extraction in these public lands is wrong and something we need to stand up against.” 
“Oil and gas companies are fighting the future,” said Samuel Molina, California state director of Mi Familia Vota. “We have to continue developing alternative, cleaner fuels and making electric vehicles more affordable for our communities. The Central Valley is number one for the worst air quality in the country. We can no longer afford worsening conditions for the children of these communities.”
“The oil and gas industry in our valley is already the largest stationary source of regional air pollution, pumping out fine particle pollution that is directly connected to asthma and heart attacks, alongside volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrate that contribute to the formation of lung-damaging smog,” said Genevieve Gale, executive director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition. “Adding insult to injury, oil and gas production releases toxic air contaminants, such as benzene and formaldehyde, that are known cancer-causing agents. Our valley cannot take any more.”
The groups said the public lands slated for drilling and fracking are near state parks, national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and Carrizo Plain National Monument. It’s also home to threatened and endangered animals, including San Joaquin kit foxes and California condors.
“This plan is a gift to the fossil fuel industry paid for by today’s Californians and future generations,” said Rebecca August, director of advocacy at Los Padres ForestWatch. “It is reckless and irresponsible to allow new oil drilling and fracking without regard for the threat it poses to precious water resources, rare and dwindling wildlife habitat, and public health.”
“At a time when we need to be taking urgent action to address the climate crisis, the Trump administration's dangerous push to expand fossil fuel extraction on our public lands is a huge step in the wrong direction," said Gary Lasky, legal chair of the Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter in Fresno. “We'll continue to fight back against this threat to our public lands, our health and our climate." 
The groups said the BLM has not issued a single new oil and gas lease in California since 2013, when a federal judge ruled that the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by issuing oil leases in Monterey County without considering fracking’s environmental dangers.
In October, the Trump administration announced it would allow fracking on an additional 725,500 acres across 11 counties in the Central Coast and Bay Area. Conservation groups filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco to challenge that decision. 
“We won’t let California’s stunning public lands be fracked and drilled without a fight,” said Clare Lakewood, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.  “Trump and the oil industry want to expose our communities and wildlife to more toxic pollution. The future of our state and our fight against the climate crisis depend on stopping this vast fracking expansion in its tracks.”  
The oil industry, the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in California, praised the BLM decision to open public lands to oil drilling.
 “Every barrel of oil we produce in California helps us affordably meet the tremendous energy demand organically without increasing costly foreign oil imports that are not subject to the same strict health, environmental and labor standards,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association and former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California, in NGI’s Shale Daily. (
For more information about the enormous power of the oil industry in California, read California's Biggest Secret? How Big Oil Dominates Public Discourse to Manipulate and Deceive:… 



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