The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced on Dec. 12 that it has cleared the final hurdle to restarting oil and gas development on its lands throughout Central California.
Amid a six-year dry spell in new oil and gas leases on public lands throughout the state, the BLM's Bakersfield Office said in a press release that it had finished a court-mandated environmental impact assessment that examined the effects of fracking.
The report's completion opens up more than 1 million acres of BLM territory to new oil and gas leases—including upward of 120,000 acres of San Luis Obispo County. Among the local areas subject to BLM control are Montaña de Oro State Park, Irish Hills Natural Reserve, the Carrizo Plain, and Morro Rock.
The BLM's environmental analysis of fracking concluded that hydraulic fracturing in the region would have "no adverse environmental impacts ... that cannot be alleviated." The BLM estimates that up to 400 new wells could be drilled in the next decade, with as many as 40 fracked.
"This effort supports the [Trump] administration's priority of promoting environmentally responsible energy development, while creating jobs and providing economic opportunities for local communities," the BLM press release stated.
Environmental groups were quick to slam the BLM following its announcement. A press release from the Center for Biological Diversity noted that it "sharply contradicts Gov. Gavin Newsom's recently unveiled plan to protect Californians from oil industry pollution as part of a strategy to phase out oil production in the state."
"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 the Los Padres ForestWatch, in the release.
Gov. Newsom's Nov. 19 order put a moratorium on new high-pressure steam injection wells, launched a new audit of fracking and its related permitting, and kicked off a process to address the health and safety impacts of oil and gas production on nearby communities.
Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, told New Times that even though BLM land is federally managed, the drilling of any new oil or gas well would require a state permit, which is subject to state rules and regulations.
"We see no reason why that should change," Lakewood said. Δ