Trump plan to allow new fracking on California coast, Central Valley moves forward

The Trump administration moved forward Thursday with its plan to open up federal land in California’s Central Valley and Central Coast to more oil and gas drilling, including fracking.

The Bureau of Land Management Central Coast Office released new documents on its proposal for oil and gas leasing and development on the public land it administers. The field office’s boundaries stretch across 11 California counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Merced, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Stanislaus.

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that opposes the plan, estimates that the proposal could open up roughly 725,000 acres of federally managed land and subsurface mineral estate to oil and gas leasing.

“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,” Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “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.”

The administration insists it is abiding by the the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 as it promotes responsible energy exploration.

The agency’s plan could result in up to 37 new oil and gas wells drilling on new land leases over the next 20 years, primarily in Fresno, Monterey and San Benito counties, according to the BLM’s preferred plan. BLM estimates that the oil and gas industry directly supports 3,000 jobs and $623 million in tax revenue within those counties.

A separate Bureau of Land Management office in Bakersfield already released a supplemental environmental impact statement last month that considers new oil and gas development on 1.6 million acres of public land across another region of California, which includes Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties. The planning area includes about 400,000 acres of public land and 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate, according to the report.

That plan calls for the use of hydraulic fracturing on 40 new wells over the next 10 years. The extraction method is currently primarily used in California to enhance oil production in the San Joaquin Valley, home to some of the largest producing oil fields in the country.

The bureau has not issued any fracking leases since a 2013 court ruling that the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act without first considering environmental impacts of the practice.

The Western States Petroleum Association, an industry lobbying group, lauded the agency’s plan and said the environmental review proves that fracking is safe.

“We’re pleased that after five years, the process worked and the federal government has reaffirmed that hydraulic fracturing is a safe method of production in California,” said spokesperson Kara Greene. “We look forward to being part of the discussions to ensure we continue to safely produce affordable reliable energy to California consumers while meeting the policy needs of the state.”

While California remains one of the largest oil producing states in the nation, production has steadily declined over the last three decades.

Thousands of Californians submitted comments to the agency in protest of the plan to open more land for drilling and fracking. Among the concerns are increased air pollution and potential contamination of groundwater, a limited resource in Central California.

Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, also criticized the administration’s proposal to expand drilling. He called it a “step backward” in the context of efforts to limit the potential harm of climate change by reducing consumption of fossil fuels.

“The Central Coast is already facing grave impacts from climate change, including rising sea levels, drought, and a nearly year-round fire season,” Carbajal said in a statement. “The administration’s plan to open public lands to fracking and oil development is a step backward given the increasingly urgent warnings from our scientific community on the unchecked effects of climate change.”

The Federal Register notice published Thursday announced the release of a Resource Management Plan (RMP) amendment and Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). People will have 30 days to protest the plan after its is published, the notice says.

Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and writes the Impact2020 newsletter. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.