Attorney General Becerra Appeals Ruling in Fracking Lawsuit

Friday, June 12, 2020
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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today filed a notice of appeal in a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s decision to repeal regulations governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of oil and gas wells drilled on federal and Native American tribal lands. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) 2015 Fracking Rule addressed growing concerns about fracking’s impact on public health and the environment. In the filing, Attorney General Becerra argues that the Trump Administration’s repeal of the 2015 Fracking Rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Today, we are fighting for the millions of Americans put at risk by the Trump Administration’s pandering to the oil industry,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The Department of Interior cut corners and ignored evidence when it decided to nix commonsense regulations for fracking on public lands. At the California Department of Justice, we remain committed to defending public health and our environment against persistent attacks from the very agencies that are supposed to be responsible for safeguarding these resources.”

Fracking operations use extreme high-pressure injection of water and chemicals to break rock formations underground and release oil and gas. This activity can cause pollution from the evaporation of toxic chemicals that return to the surface and has been tied to an increase in hazardous air emissions in already overburdened communities near oil and gas operations. Fracking also heightens the risk of well cracks that can contaminate underground sources of drinking water and creates millions of gallons of wastewater contaminated with heavy metals and chemicals. 

In 2010, in response to increasing public concerns, BLM began a thorough and extensive regulatory review of the risks of fracking. After examining a lengthy record and considering over 1.5 million public comments, BLM finalized the Fracking Rule in 2015 with commonsense regulations designed to mitigate public health and environmental risks and ensure a level playing field for oil and gas developers. The rule included regulations to prevent the contamination of drinking water supplies and the leakage of dangerous chemicals and hazardous air emissions, among other requirements. Only nine-months after finalizing the rule, BLM contradicted its own findings and abruptly acted to reverse the rule. On December 29, 2017, the repeal of the Fracking Rule went into effect. The following month, Attorney General Becerra filed a lawsuit challenging the decision. On March 27, 2020, the District Court for the Northern District of California found that BLM had adequately explained its reversal and that NEPA did not apply.

In today’s filing, Attorney General Becerra seeks an order compelling BLM to reinstate the Fracking Rule. Attorney General Becerra intends to argue that the District Court for the Northern District of California:

  • Failed to consider that the Bureau’s justification for repealing the Fracking Rule was arbitrary and capricious under the APA because evidence clearly shows that the burdens to industry of the rule would be minimal;
  • Did not fully address the fact that the Bureau neglected to consider more narrowly tailored alternatives to a full repeal; and
  • Incorrectly determined that the National Environmental Policy Act does not apply in this case because the Fracking Rule never went into effect due to earlier litigation. 

Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting California residents from the dangers of fossil fuel extraction. On January 17, 2020, Attorney General Becerra, the California Air Resources Board, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the California Department of Water Resources filed a lawsuit challenging the Bureau’s plan to open up more than one million acres of public lands in the Central Valley to fracking. In 2018, Attorney General Becerra challenged BLM’s attempt to repeal a 2016 rule reducing methane pollution from oil and gas operations on federal lands.

A copy of the notice of appeal can be found here.

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