Attorney General Becerra, Governor Newsom, State Departments, File Lawsuit Challenging BLM Decision to Open Up Central California to Fracking

Friday, January 17, 2020
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Governor Gavin Newsom, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) today filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plan to open up more than one million acres of public lands in Central California to oil and gas drilling, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California alleges that BLM’s environmental review of the project failed to fully evaluate the significant and adverse impacts on the communities and environment of Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura Counties, and requests that the court set aside the decision.

“BLM’s decision to advance this half-baked proposal isn’t just misguided, it’s downright dangerous,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The risks to both people and the environment associated with fracking are simply too high to ignore. But that’s essentially what BLM is doing.  We won’t ignore the facts and science when it comes to protecting our people, economy, and environment – and we’re taking the Trump Administration to court to prove it.”

Fracking is a procedure in which oil and gas producers inject water, sand, and certain chemicals at high pressure into tight rock formations to extract oil and gas. While most of the fluid is water, the process also involves the use of toxic chemicals that can pollute nearby groundwater and release air toxins when flowing back to the surface. A growing body of evidence points to fracking as causing significant water and air pollution, harm to imperiled species, land subsidence or sinking and low-level seismic events. BLM failed to adequately consider these significant harms. BLM also improperly assumes that only four wells per year will utilize fracking, grossly distorting its consideration of environmental impacts. In June 2019, Attorney General Becerra, CARB, CDFW, and DWR submitted comments on BLM’s draft supplemental environmental impact statement, recommending that the BLM withdraw its draft proposal and prepare a new analysis to fully consider these issues. However, BLM moved forward with its plan on December 12, 2019 and issued a final record of decision.

BLM’s decision endangers California’s environment and the public health of its communities, potentially causing increased air pollution, increased greenhouse gas emissions, damage to surface and groundwater resources and infrastructure, impacts to protected and endangered species and habitats, and minor earthquakes and tremors. More than 95 percent of federal drilling in California occurs in Kern County, much of which is a nonattainment area failing to meet numerous federal environmental standards and state ambient air quality standards. Excess pollution in this part of California — including methane, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and toxic air pollution from oil and gas operations — significantly increases the rates and risks of asthma, heart disease, lung disease, and cancer. Much of the federal oil and gas activity in the state occurs in close proximity to California’s most vulnerable communities, which already are disproportionately exposed to pollution and its health effects.

Moreover, BLM’s decision would interfere with California’s statutory target to reduce the State’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and to achieve 100 percent of electricity sales from renewable energy and zero-carbon resources by 2045.

The lawsuit asserts that the BLM’s final environmental impact statement violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act as the decision:

  • Fails to carefully address the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of its proposed action and relies upon incorrect assumptions regarding the frequency of fracking on public lands;
  • Ignores the impacts and danger to millions of people living near the oil and gas wells. Seven of the eight counties in the planning area do not meet air quality standards for particulate matter, ozone, or both;
  • Disregards alternatives and mitigation measures that could reduce the impacts of fracking, including closing off areas near disadvantaged communities, ecologically sensitive areas, and areas with low or no potential for oil and gas development;
  • Fails to consider the conflicts of the proposed action with state laws and policies; and
  • Did not provide an adequate opportunity for public comment by unlawfully restricting the comment period, failing to accept oral comments, and refusing to provide interpretive services at public meetings.

California stands strong in protecting its residents from the dangers of fossil fuel extraction. In June 2019, Attorney General Becerra, CARB, CDFW, and DWR submitted the aforementioned comments addressing BLM’s deficient analysis and recommending that BLM fully consider the environmental impacts of opening more than one million acres of public land in California to oil and gas leasing. In January 2018, Attorney General Becerra filed a lawsuit against BLM over its decision to repeal the 2015 Fracking Rule, which governs the fracking of oil and gas wells on federal and Native American Tribal lands nationwide.

A copy of the complaint is available here.

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