In 2013, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club challenged the issuance of oil and gas leases in Monterey and Fresno Counties arguing that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had not sufficiently considered the risks of fracking which constitutes the technique used on 90% of new wells, according to the BLM. The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and the BLM was forced to retract the leases and suspend future leases for five years.
Earlier this year, with the suspension complete, the Trump administration issued final plans for oil and gas leases out of two BLM offices covering more than 1 million acres of federal land on the Central Coast and Central Valley. CalWild along with many other groups mobilized public comments and turned out in droves at public meetings in Bakersfield and San Luis Obispo (SLO).
For years many local communities, concerned about the impacts to health and the environment, have worked to ban new oil and drilling in their cities and counties. These jurisdictions along with many residents are worried about the impacts on air quality, additional earthquakes, climate change, and tainted groundwater.
In 2016, Monterey County voters passed Measure Z banning fracking, new oil and gas wells and new waste-injection wells. Also that year, San Benito and Alameda Counties passed ballot measures banning fracking. Santa Cruz County has passed an ordinance banning fracking and all other oil and gas development, while a similar measure in San Luis Obispo County lost in 2018.
One of the areas that could have new leases is around the Carrizo Plain National Monument known for its surreal flower blooms and a key part of our public lands bill on the central coast. Our central coast Congressional champion Representative Salud Carbajal submitted a statement at the SLO event, “The BLM’s plan stands in stark contrast with California’s energy goals. Fracking also presents an unacceptable risk to California’s precious groundwater resources.”
In direct response to the new federal order, the California legislature passed and the Governor signed AB 342 in October. This bill would bar California agencies from entering into a lease authorizing new construction of oil- and gas-related infrastructure on federally protected lands.
Despite these protests and a clear consensus on California and Californians’ desire to block all new oil drilling, BLM approved an oil and gas exploration plan. During the protest period BLM received over 400 objections but ruled none of them valid. According to this decision, over 700,000 acres of public land and underground minerals can be leased in Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Merced, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Stanislaus Counties. The BLM projects that the vast majority of the 37 new wells will be within Fresno, Monterey and San Benito counties.
CalWild and our partners will continue to support the legal efforts to challenge this plan and monitor the individual leases as they are proposed to make sure they don’t impact any wild places in the state.