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Trump Wants to Open Public Lands to Oil Drilling in California

Governor Jerry Brown expanded oil and gas drilling in California during his last two terms as governor, approving 21,000 new oil and gas drilling permits. Now the Trump administration wants to expand oil and gas drilling on federal lands in California.

On May 9, the Trump administration finalized a controversial plan, entitled “The Proposed Resource Management Plan Amendment and Final Environmental Impact Statement for Oil and Gas Leasing and Development,” to open 725,500 acres of public lands and mineral estate across California’s Central Coast and the Bay Area to new oil and gas drilling.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has selected “Alternative F” as its preferred alternative. This plan would increase by 327,000 acres the acreage in the draft proposal prepared under the Obama administration.

The public lands selected for leasing are found in the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Merced, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Stanislaus.

“Alternative F was selected as the Preferred Alternative based on the Administration’s goal of strengthening energy independence and the BLM support of an all-of-the-above energy plan that includes oil and gas underlying America’s public lands,” according to the plan abstract.

“Under Alternative F [BLM’s Preferred Alternative], Federal mineral estate would be open to leasing; however; NSO (No Surface Occupancy) stipulations would apply to some lands open to leasing, including: (1) Joaquin Rocks ACEC; (2) ACECs within Ciervo-Panoche Natural Area; and (3) giant kangaroo rat core population areas. Under all alternatives, areas closed under the 2007 RMP would remain closed (Wilderness, Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs), Clear Creek Serpentine Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), and Fort Ord National Monument).”

Environmental groups condemned the plan for further expanding fracking and other oil drilling in a state already suffering the devastating health and environmental impacts of increased oil and gas drilling under the Jerry Brown administration.

“Trump’s new plan aims to stab oil derricks and fracking rigs into some of California’s most beautiful landscapes,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “From Monterey to the Bay Area, the president wants to let oil companies drill and spill their way across our beloved public lands and wildlife habitat. As we fight climate chaos, there’s no justification for any new drilling and fracking, let alone this outrageous assault on our pristine wild places.”

Lakewood noted that the move comes just weeks after the Trump administration released its draft plan to reopen more than a million acres of public land and federal mineral estate in the Central California region, including Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties, to fossil fuel extraction. Together the plans target a total of 1,736,970 acres across 19 California counties.

“The plans would end a five-year-old moratorium on leasing federal public land and mineral estate in the state to oil companies. The BLM has not held a single lease sale in California since 2013, when a judge ruled that the agency violated the law when it issued oil leases in Monterey and Fresno Counties without considering the risks of fracking. The ruling responded to a suit brought by the Center and the Sierra Club challenging a BLM decision to auction off about 2,500 acres of land in those counties to oil companies,” said Lakewood.

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), headed by President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California, lauded the the BLM resource management plan.

WSPA spokesperson Kara Greene told the Natural Gas Intelligencer that the action “reaffirmed that hydraulic fracturing is a safe method of production in California.” She also said WSPA wants to be “part of the discussions to ensure we continue to safely produce affordable, reliable energy.”

However, opponents of the plan describe fracking as “an extreme oil-extraction process that blasts toxic chemicals mixed with water underground to crack rocks.” According to the BLM, about 90 percent of new oil and gas wells on public lands are fracked.

They also point to a 2015 report from the California Council on Science and Technology concluding that fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, dangerously close to underground drinking water supplies, with unusually high concentrations of toxic chemicals.

The BLM’s regulations provide a 60-day window for Gov. Gavin Newsom to review the plan for any inconsistencies with state and local plans and policies and provide recommendations. If the BLM rejects such recommendations, the governor can appeal that determination.

However, environmental groups and others may challenge the plan and file a lawsuit if the protest is denied.

“In California and across the country, the Trump administration is putting our communities and our climate at risk as they prioritize fossil fuel industry profits over the health and safety of our families,” said Monica Embrey, a Sierra Club senior campaign representative. “We will use every tool at our disposal to push back against this reckless proposal and protect our public lands from fracking.”

Under Trump, Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 was a record year for onshore oil and gas revenues on public lands due in large part to “more streamlined permitting timelines and abundant acreage for lease” as was revealed in statistics released by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on May 1, according to a press release from the Department of Interior.

“In FY 2018, the U.S. hit all-time highs for federal oil production on federal land, 214,144,945 barrels produced onshore, with the smallest footprint of acreage under lease (25,552,475 acres) since BLM started collecting comparable data in FY 1985 (120,686,611 acres),” according to Interior.

“Demonstrating the marvel of technology and innovation, our production numbers are unprecedented, even though we have the fewest acres under lease in almost four decades,” claimed U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former oil industry and Westlands Water District lobbyist. “President Trump has ensured that America’s great energy renaissance includes federal lands while delivering high paying jobs and low cost fuel.”

If not stopped, this expansion of oil and gas drilling on federal public lands in California, after a record year of oil production in the US, would come on top of the expansion of oil and gas drilling already initiated in California under Governor Jerry Brown.

For decades, California has been often portrayed as the nation’s “green leader.” This myth has been promulgated by the Governor’s Office, state leaders, regulatory agencies, compliant media and most importantly, by the powerful oil industry itself. In reality, Brown expanded both onshore and offshore drilling in California during his third and fourth terms as Governor.

A review of state permitting records in the report “The Sky’s The Limit: California,” shows that more than 21,000 drilling permits were issued during the Brown administration. These wells include over 200 new offshore wells approved between 2012 and 2016, according to Department of Conservation data analyzed by the Fractracker Alliance.

In addition, the CA Governor currently controls 4 times as many offshore wells as Trump. Brown last year called Trump’s plan to expand federal offshore oil drilling leases “short-sighted and reckless. However, a website – www.BrownvTrumpOilMap.com — shows Brown controls four times more oil wells in state waters than those Trump controls in federal waters, according to Consumer Watchdog.

Offshore wells in state waters controlled by the Brown Administration total 5460, versus 1429 offshore wells in federal waters controlled by the Trump administration. Federal waters are those three nautical miles or more off California’s coast.

Environmental justice, conservation and public interest groups responded positively to a key sentence in the “May Revision” of Governor Gavin Newsom’s California state budget regarding transitioning the state from fossil fuels.

“The May Revision also recognizes the need for careful study and planning to decrease demand and supply of fossil fuels, while managing the decline in a way that is economically responsible and sustainable,” the sentence states.

“The fossil fuel-based economy has come at the grave cost of the health and safety of communities next to oil and gas operations, and we appreciate Governor Newsom’s important first steps toward a fossil fuel phaseout in California,” said Gladys Limón, Executive Director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “We hope the Governor will prioritize relieving frontline communities of the unconscionable burdens they currently face by instituting a commonsense health and safety buffer, and continue to invest in transitioning impacted workers into high-wage jobs to ensure they can thrive in the new energy economy.”

Newsom has taken no specific actions to date regarding reversing the expansion of oil and gas drilling in California, although he did take a “No Oil Money” pledge at the beginning of his campaign for Governor.
More articles by:

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

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