California Department of Justice Expresses Concern Over Proposal to Allow Exploratory Drilling in the Suisun Marsh

Friday, April 2, 2021
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SACRAMENTO – The California Department of Justice (DOJ) today filed comments with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) regarding Sunset Exploration's proposal to drill for natural gas in the Suisun Marsh. Located in the San Francisco Bay-Delta, this 88,000-acre wetland is home to a number of endangered and threatened species, including California Ridgway’s rail, black rail, and Chinook salmon – and is just a few short miles from environmental justice communities in Solano County. In today’s letter, DOJ urges the Army Corps to fully consider the proposal's significant environmental impacts, including harm to these communities and protected species, as well as increased greenhouse gas emissions, before deciding whether to grant the requested permit. 

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Suisun Marsh is “the largest contiguous brackish water marsh remaining on the west coast of North America.” Under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, Sunset Exploration must obtain a permit from the Army Corps to destroy wetlands as part of its effort to explore for natural gas in the Suisun Marsh. If the exploration project is successful, Sunset Exploration will develop full-scale fossil fuel extraction facilities at the site. 

The Suisun Marsh provides key habitat for numerous bird species migrating on the Pacific flyway, fish species such as the green sturgeon and Chinook salmon, and rare plant species such as the Suisun thistle. The project site is also located within a few miles of several environmental justice communities that have been overburdened by air pollution and other environmental hazards for decades, including the cities of Suisun City, Fairfield, and Vallejo. This high pollution is due in part to existing oil and gas facilities in the area. Exploratory drilling in the marsh is likely to create significant air and water pollution due to the operation of heavy machinery and the use of drilling mud, diesel fuel, and other chemicals. The construction of full-scale production facilities is likely to be accompanied by even greater air and water quality impacts, as well as significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions, in tension with state and federal climate policy.

On January 25, 2021, the Army Corps issued a public notice concerning Sunset Exploration’s permit application. The public notice provides very limited information about the proposal, and based on the information currently available, DOJ does not believe that Sunset Exploration’s proposal is in the public interest. Before proceeding, therefore, DOJ urges Army Corps to:

  • Make Sunset Exploration's application available to the public and reopen the comment period to allow for public review of and comment on that application; 
  • Consider the project's potential environmental justice and greenhouse gas impacts, as well as alternatives that would not harm the unique saltwater marsh habitat and the species that depend on it;
  • Consult with wildlife agencies concerning potential impacts to all federal- and state-listed species; 
  • Determine whether the project is consistent with state law restrictions on the placement of fill in Suisun Marsh; 
  • Prepare an environmental impact statement, rather than an environmental assessment, given the project’s potential significant environmental impacts; and 
  • Evaluate all available mitigation measures.

A copy of the comment letter can be found here

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