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BLM Launches Assessment of Calif. Oil, Gas Leasing

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our California News page.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Federal land managers will launch a statewide scientific assessment of oil and gas development in California, a victory for environmentalists concerned about impacts of hydraulic fracturing nationwide.

The Bureau of Land Management announced Friday that it will conduct the in-depth environmental study of fracking and other oil and gas recovery projects in a cooperative project with the state.

The decision comes after a federal judge determined the BLM violated environmental law by auctioning off the rights to extract oil using the controversial process on 2,500 acres of prime public lands in Monterey County.

The BLM says the outcome of its assessment could establish additional environmental protections on those parcels.

"We're pleased that federal officials are finally starting the full analysis of fracking pollution's dangers that should have been done before these public lands were auctioned off to oil companies," said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Center and the Sierra Club sued in a challenge to the BLM's decision to auction the land without studying potential impacts. In April a judge sided with the environmental groups.

"The court said the BLM downplayed the likelihood of development on those parcels or impacts," Cummings said. "We said it's highly likely they'll be developed and we're concerned about impacts to water. Fracking changes everything. Places that weren't economic to drill are now."

The parcels covered in the lawsuit include stretches of southern Monterey County lauded by John Steinbeck in East of Eden and other novels. It's where cattle ranchers, wine grape growers and row crop farmers rely on tight water supplies. The area is also part of the historic range of the endangered California condor, whose global population is estimated at fewer than 400 birds.

Prior to the auction Democratic Rep. Sam Farr, who represents the region, had asked the BLM to delay the awarding of leases over concerns the agency wasn't doing enough to monitor potential impacts of fracking. Half of Californians favor stricter regulations of fracking, according to a survey released this week by the Public Policy Institute of California.     


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