SACRAMENTO, California. – Leasing for new oil and gas drilling on federal land in central California is temporarily blocked under an agreement announced Monday between the state and the US Bureau of Land Management.
The deal, which still needs court approval, focuses on more than 2,500 square miles (6,475 square kilometers) of land and underground mineral rights owned by the federal government in California’s Central Valley, a hub of oil and gas activity. . It bars the federal government from leasing any land for drilling until it completes a new review of the environmental damage that can be caused by fracking, a process used to extract oil and gas from rock.
“Fracking is dangerous to our communities, harms our environment, and is not in line 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 that the plan failed to assess environmental damage. In 2017, the office agreed to provide an additional environmental review, according to the agreement.
The Trump administration subsequently moved forward with the 2014 plan without substantive changes, according to the agreement. Environmental groups sued again and so did the state of California, arguing that the federal government failed to assess how fracking would affect water, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, recreational land use, environmental impacts seismic and more.
Fracking is the process of injecting a high-pressure mixture 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 is a controversial practice due to concerns that the injected chemicals will contaminate groundwater.
The agreement places a moratorium on any sale of oil and gas leases on federal land around Bakersfield until environmental reviews are completed.
The Biden administration attempted to suspend lease sales for oil and gas drilling on federal land, but was blocked by a court. The first land lease auctions since Biden took office began in late June. Available land covered approximately 225 square miles (580) square kilometers in most western states, but none in California.
California Governor Gavin Newsom has called for a ban on new fracking permits on state-authorized land beginning in 2024. Fracking accounts for only a small percentage of the state’s oil production. The Newsom administration has already begun denying fracking permits based solely 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 drive prices higher.
“It is unfortunate that President Biden is traveling the world asking other countries to increase production while our governor is working hard to eliminate domestic resources,” he said in a statement.