David Roberts recently listed 10 reasons why fracking for oil in California is a stupid idea. A federal judge has now added one more: It would be stupid to allow fracking on federal lands in the state without first adequately studying the potential environmental impacts.
That’s exactly what the Bureau of Land Management tried to do. And now the bureau has been admonished in court for its environmentally unfriendly rush to allow energy companies to pump California full of chemicals and sand as they suck out oil from the vast Monterey Shale reserve.
A federal judge has ruled the Obama administration broke the law when it issued oil leases in central California without fully weighing the environmental impact of “fracking,” a setback for companies seeking to exploit the region’s enormous energy resources.
The decision, made public on Monday, effectively bars for the time being any drilling on two tracts of land comprising 2,500 acres leased for oil and gas development in 2011 by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management in Monterey County.
The judge ruled that BLM’s environmental analysis failed to “adequately consider the development impact of hydraulic fracturing techniques … when used in combination with technologies such as horizontal drilling,” and that the “potential risk for contamination from fracking, while unknown, is not so remote or speculative to be completely ignored.”
Environmentalists and local representatives cheered the decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal, who said federal land managers violated a key environmental law when they auctioned off the rights to drill for oil and gas on public lands in Monterey County, home to one of the largest deposits of shale oil in the nation. …
“This important decision recognizes that fracking poses new, unique risks to California’s air, water, and wildlife that government agencies can’t ignore,” said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, who argued the case for the plaintiffs. “This is a watershed moment — the first court opinion to find a federal lease sale invalid for failing to address the monumental dangers of fracking.”
The judge did not invalidate the oil leases, but he ordered the BLM to try to reach an agreement with the environmental groups that filed the suit. The outcome is expected to be a more thorough environmental study of the fracking plans.
Get Grist in your inbox