Energy: BLM to study California fracking impacts

Widespread deposits of valuable natural gas and oil in shale formations has spurred the fracking boom.

Some leasing likely to be on hold for at least a year

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Following a legal challenge, federal officials said last week they will re-evaluate the potential impacts of fracking to public lands in California. The federal environmental study will be accompanied by a statewide independent scientific assessment of fracking in central California.

The new studies were announced after a federal court upheld a legal challenge of the  BLM’s decision to auction off about 2,500 acres of land in Monterey County to oil companies. The lawsuit was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.

A federal judge ruled in April that the BLM had violated the law by not considering fracking risks or preparing an impact statement for its lease-sale decision. In mid-April the conservation groups filed a second case, challenging a subsequent and similarly flawed lease sale that covered almost 18,000 acres in the same region.

“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, who argued the lawsuit for the plaintiffs. “Fracking these sensitive places threatens California’s air, water, wildlife and climate. In an era of dangerous climate change, the government should be protecting our remnant public lands, not leasing them out for fossil fuel development.”

Fracking uses huge amounts of water mixed with sand and some toxic chemicals to blast open rock formations and extract oil and gas. The controversial technique is already being used in hundreds — and perhaps thousands — of California oil and gas wells. Oil companies are aggressively trying to frack the Monterey Shale, a large geological formation running beneath these federal leases believed to harbor about 15 billion barrels of oil.

“The study will shed further light on the risks inherent in fracking and drilling for oil and gas. We should not be drilling for oil and gas unless those risks are understood and can be fully mitigated,” said Nathan Matthews, associate attorney with the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program. “Ultimately, for a stable climate and for public health, we need to keep oil, gas other fossil fuels in the ground, while moving as quickly as possible to clean energy like wind and solar,” he said.

Environmental groups say they are concerned about the toxic chemicals used in some fracking formulas, including methanol, benzene and trimenthylbenzene.

A recent study from the Colorado School of Public Health found that fracking contributes to serious neurological and respiratory problems in people living near fracked wells, while also putting them at higher risk of cancer.

The Bureau’s impact study will address the impacts of fracking in the region managed by the agency’s Hollister field office, which encompasses 280,000 acres of public lands and 440,000 acres of split-estate lands in Central California, including areas subject to leasing in Monterey, San Benito and Fresno counties. The independent scientific review will analyze the scope and impacts of fracking statewide.

Completion of the environmental impact statement and scientific review are likely to take more than a year. It is unlikely that further oil leasing and development activities can occur in the areas covered by the impact statement until its completion.


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