Settlement blocks new federal fracking leases in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Leasing for new oil and gas drilling on federal land in central California is temporarily blocked under a settlement announced Monday between the state and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The deal, which still needs court approval, centers on more than 2,500 square miles (6,475 square kilometers) of land and subsurface mineral rights owned by the federal government in California’s Central Valley, a hub for oil and gas activity. It prohibits the federal government from leasing any of the land for drilling until it completes a fresh review of environmental harms that may be caused by fracking, a process used to extract oil and gas from rock.

“Fracking is dangerous for our communities, damaging to our environment, and out of step with California’s climate goals,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement announcing the settlement.

The dispute over federal drilling activity on the land began in 2014, when the Obama administration wanted to lease the land. Environmental groups sued, arguing the plan failed to assess environmental harms. In 2017, the bureau agreed to provide additional environmental review, according to the settlement.

Later, the Trump administration moved forward with the 2014 plan without substantial changes, the settlement said. The environmental groups sued again and so did the state of California, arguing that the federal government failed to evaluate how fracking would affect water, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, recreational use of the lands, seismic impacts and more.

Fracking is the process of injecting a high-pressure mix of mostly water with some sand and chemical additives into rock to create or expand fractures that allow oil and gas to be extracted. It’s a controversial practice due to concerns about the injected chemicals contaminating groundwater.

The settlement puts a moratorium on any sales of oil and gas leases on federal land around Bakersfield until the appropriate environmental reviews are completed.

The Biden administration tried to suspend sales of leases for oil and gas drilling on federal land but was blocked by a court. The first auctions for onshore leasing since Biden took office began at the end of June. The available land covered about 225 square miles (580) square kilometers in mostly Western states, but none in California.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has called for a ban on new fracking permits on state-permitted land starting in 2024. Fracking accounts for just a small percentage of oil production in the state. Newsom’s administration has already begun denying fracking permits solely based on climate change concerns, prompting oil and gas groups to sue.

Kevin Slagle, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, said decisions that make it harder to produce energy in California will cause prices to rise.

“It’s unfortunate that President Biden travels the world asking other countries to increase production while our governor is working hard to eliminate domestic resources,” he said in a statement.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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