Aug. 1—The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has agreed not to auction off any more federal leases for production of oil and gas in Central California, including Kern, until the agency has completed a supplemental environmental review of the effects of the well-completion technique known as fracking.
The agreement dated Friday stems from a series of 2020 cases in which the Newsom administration and environmental groups filed lawsuits that targeted the BLM's 2019 review of fracking's local impacts, effectively challenging a plan by former President Donald Trump that would have restarted oil leasing across more than 1 million acres in counties including Kern.
"In keeping with the Bureau of Land Management's mission to preserve the health of our public lands, it must reassess this Trump-era mistake," state Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a news release.
Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, one of several environmental groups that sued to stop BLM oil leases in the region, said in a news release Friday's agreement "protects the iconic landscapes that define central California, safeguards public health and moves us closer to a cleaner energy future."
Fracking injects water, sand and small amounts of sometimes toxic chemicals underground at high pressure to open access to petroleum deposits. Environmental groups say the practice threatens air and groundwater quality, while the industry says it has been done safely in the state for decades.
California lawmakers passed the first state rules specific to fracking in 2013. But a statewide debate over the practice rages on, with many advocacy groups calling for it to be banned in California.
Meanwhile, oil companies and industry groups continue to press their cases in court that Gov. Gavin Newsom overstepped his authority in 2021 by imposing a de-facto moratorium on fracking pending a formal ban to take effect in 2024.
Bonta said in the release that the BLM failed to adequately consider fracking's potential environmental harms when it improperly assumed only four wells per year would be fracked on BLM land in Central California.
Even after the BLM completes the supplemental review, he added, the state reserves the right to challenge it.
Oil industry representatives blasted the settlement agreement.
"The governor is continuing his goal of making California completely dependent on imported foreign crude from Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iraq that are exempt from our climate regulations and putting highly paid Central Valley energy workers out of work," CEO Rock Zierman of the California Independent Petroleum Association trade group said by email.
Added Kevin Slagle, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association trade group: "Bans, mandates and decisions that make it more difficult to produce energy in California only result in higher costs, job losses and more reliance on foreign sources. It's unfortunate that President (Joe) Biden travels the world asking other countries to increase production while our governor is working hard to eliminate domestic resources."
The BLM has estimated that federal oil and gas leases in California generate up to $90 million per year. Half that money goes to state coffers.
According to the industry, petroleum production on BLM property in California represents about 8 percent of the state's total.
The last auction of federal oil and gas leases in California, in early 2021, raised a total of $54,254.52 after six bidders paid for temporary access to 4,133 acres.
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