U.S. Bureau of Land Management

Protesters hold signs saying, “No new leases on public lands,” at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s public hearing on oil-leasing in Santa Barbara County held at Santa Barbara City College on May 23.

On Jan. 14, several conservation groups filed a joint lawsuit against the Trump Administration, challenging the last step in the administration’s plan to allow oil drilling and fracking on more than 1 million acres of public lands and minerals in Central California. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by Los Padres ForestWatch, Patagonia, Sierra Club, Earthjustice and Center for Biological Diversity, among other environmental conservation groups.

According to the complaint, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated federal law by failing to consider fracking’s potential harm to public health and recreation in the region, as well as harm to the climate and possible groundwater and air pollution. The suit also notes the potential for oil-industry-induced earthquakes.

The BLM’s plan would allow drilling and fracking on public lands across eight counties in California’s Central Valley and Central Coast, including parcels in Carpinteria Valley.

The BLM has not held an oil and gas lease sale in California since 2012, when a federal judge ruled that the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by issuing oil leases in Monterey County without considering fracking’s environmental dangers. In November, Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration announced a moratorium on new high-pressure steam injection wells and scientific reviews of all current fracking permit applications.

“BLM’s ill-considered plan to fling wide the door to fracking on public lands is yet another assault on California’s efforts to protect its environment and move away from dirty fossil fuels,” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Gov. Newsom just announced curbs on oil drilling, but BLM is charging full speed ahead with it. California is trying to find a way to rationally address its limited water supply, and now BLM is greenlighting activities that can contaminate it with toxic chemicals.”

Michelle Ghafar, an attorney at Earthjustice, brought up concerns that the BLM has chosen the oil industry over the health and safety of local communities in Central California. “A federal court already agreed with us once that the BLM failed to fully evaluate the impacts of the oil and gas expansion it is authorizing on public land,” said Ghafar. “We’re returning to court once again to ensure the agency properly analyzes the impacts of devastating fracking activities in its plan.”

Many of the areas planned for drilling and fracking are near state parks and beaches, national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, the Pacific Crest Trail and Carrizo Plain National Monument. The lands are also home to threatened and endangered animals, including San Joaquin kit foxes and California condors.

“This reckless plan threatens the iconic landscapes that define central California, endangering our communities and moving us further away from a clean energy future,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch. “Our action seeks to uphold our nation’s environmental protection laws while securing a safe and healthy future for our region’s public lands.”

Fracking is an extreme oil-extraction process that blasts a mixture of toxic chemicals and water into the ground to crack open oil-bearing rocks. According to the BLM, about 90 percent of new oil and gas wells on public lands are fracked. 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.

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