Trump administration reopens leasing of federal lands in California for fracking

Back in 2013 a plan to start fracking on Federal lands in California was stopped by a lawsuit. Rather than it being a final victory that permanently banned fracking in California, the Bureau of Land Management launched a process to redesign the plan to satisfy the judgement in the lawsuit. In the meantime the Trump administration came into office, and two Executive Orders directed the Government to increase fossil fuel production in the USA. That in turn gave the local BLM office cover to develop a plan that could see about 700,000 of public lands in California opened to fracking.

For those of us who want to stop fracking and understand its risks, it seemed like a victory in 2013 when lawsuits stopped the BLM from leasing lands for fracking. California is strongly against the fossil fuel system, as evidenced by the fact that over half of the electric vehicles in the USA are in California, and over half the installed photovoltaic capacity in the USA is in California. For the Trump Administration to now greenlight fracking in California seems like a smack in the face of California’s clear desire to take a different direction.

Coincidentally this move came in the wake of the showdown between California and the Trump administration over whether California’s Zero Emission Vehicle requirements can be canceled by federal dictate. But that’s not quite the case since the BLM has been working on redesigning the project for several years now.

As the BLM repeatedly states in documents they’ve published, the Trump administration issued two Executive Orders of interest:

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As we know, the Trump Administration has been turning all kinds of policy gains upside-down, and has moved strongly to support the fossil fuel industries. Elections matter.

Locality affected

The land to be affected is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, specifically the Central Coast Field Office. This office was formerly known as the Hollister Field Office. The jurisdictional area is:

San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara, Alameda, southern Contra Costa, southwest San Joaquin, western Stanislaus, western Merced, and western Fresno Counties, California

… Within the planning area, the BLM administers approximately 284,000 acres of surface estate and 793,000 acres of Federal mineral estate.

Proposed Resource Management Plan Amendment and Final Environmental Impact Statement for Oil and Gas Leasing and Development, Central Coast Field Office

This area includes the San Francisco Bay Area, home to a large number of people, several major cities, hundreds of globe-spanning companies, and several universities with globe-spanning impact. Then immediately outside those specific counties, we have heavily rural areas that don’t have such a global impact. For the most part the oil resources in question are in those heavily rural areas, but curiously there is a swatch of land underneath Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, and part of San Jose, that on the maps is marked as a potential oil field.

Another issue is the earthquake risk. Running through the center of this area is the infamous San Andreas Fault, and through another portion is the less infamous Hayward Fault. Both are expected to produce major earthquakes in the comping years. Fracking operations are known to produce earthquakes – witness the earthquake activity that began in Oklahoma and central Kansas after fracking operations began in those areas.

BLM Hollister Field Office, California Oil and Gas Leasing scoping map

This map shows a larger context, of the potential oil fields in the southern half of California. The area of immediate concern is the box labeled Hollister Field Office, but clearly there are other areas of potential oil activity, as well as current oil activity.

The yellow areas are described as Monterey Shale Play while the brown areas are described as Basin. There are currently authorized leases on federal land, primarily in the area administered by the Bakersfield Field Office, and they’re marked in black.

For example the area marked “Los Angeles Basin” was, 100 years ago, a heavily developed oil field. Today that field is mostly tapped out, but there are still offshore oil drilling derricks as well as oil wells scattered throughout the urban Los Angeles area. Four years ago I was invited by Hyundai for a press gig covering the launch of the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and they put us up in Huntington Beach. I did not know that urban oil drilling happens in the Los Angeles area, but within a half mile of the hotel was several oil wells scattered throughout the neighborhood.

The Los Angeles area has hundreds of oil wells scattered throughout the area, such as this oil well in a neighborhood in Huntington Beach.

The new plan raises the potential for similar urban oil drilling in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The 2011-12 lawsuit, and BLM’s response

In Center for Biological Diversity v. Bureau of Land Management, and a related case, the settlement required that the BLM develop an Environmental Impact Statement addressing oil and gas development in the affected area. Due to that the BLM developed what they’re calling a new Reasonably Foreseeable Development (RFD) Scenario. In particular they’re paying attention to current and future technology for “well stimulation” (a.k.a. fracking) including hydraulic fracturing, acid matrix stimulation, and acid fracturing.

So, it’s not just the “normal fracking” that is a combination of water and chemicals and sand that’s pumped underground at high pressure. They’re envisioning fracking techniques using powerful acids. For more on this see my earlier post Oil companies planning acid fracturing of California’s Monterey Shale

The planning process evaluated six alternative plans:

  • Alternative A is a continuation of current management (No Action Alternative). Under this alternative, the BLM would continue to manage oil and gas development under the existing RMPs.
  • Alternative B would limit the areas open to oil and gas leasing and development to lands within oil and gas fields and 0.5-mile buffer areas currently defined by the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources.
  • Under Alternative C, areas of high oil and gas potential or within oil and gas fields and 0.5-mile buffer would remain open. Areas of moderate and low potential and core population areas of the giant kangaroo rat in the vicinity of Panoche, Griswold, Tumey, and Ciervo Hills would be closed.
  • Alternative D would leave open Federal mineral estate underlying BLM surface estate and close split estate lands. The Ciervo-Panoche Natural Area would also be closed.
  • Under Alternative E, Federal mineral estate outside of California DWR Bulletin 118 groundwater basins and sub-basins would be open; Federal mineral estate within these groundwater basins and sub-basins would be closed.
  • Under Alternative F [BLM’s Preferred Alternative], Federal mineral estate would be open to leasing; however; NSO 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).

That list came directly from the BLM’s EIS, and as it says Alternative F was chosen.

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According to the documents released by the BLM, there was a public process. Primarily it seems this involved the organizations involved in the original lawsuit. The BLM commenced a series of workshops in January/February 2014. Through those workshops and other work, the BLM collected a large quantity of responses and information.

The draft EIS was released in May 2019, and there was a 30 day period in which the public could make comments or file protests. The BLM received 436 protests, of which 412 were dismissed because those filing the protest did not have “standing”. The remaining 24 protests were from parties that had standing, of them 7 were denied, and the other 17 were dismissed for not containing protestible issues.

If you do the math, the BLM dismissed or denied every single protest to the plan.

The bottom line of the alternative chosen is:

  • Federal lands would reopen for leasing
  • The areas closed in the 2007 plan would remain closed – several Wilderness areas, the Clear Creek Serpentine ACED and the Fort Ord National Monument
  • Non-surface-operations stipulations are in place for the Joaquin Rocks ACEC, ACECs within Ciervo-Panoche Natural Area; and Giant kangaroo rat core population areas
  • 683,100 acres are now open for leasing with controlled surface use
  • 67,500 acres are closed to leasing
  • 42,400 are open for leasing with non-surface-operation stipulations

The disputed oil bonanza in California

Many years ago the EIA (Energy Information Administration) issued an estimate of the oil resource in California that depended on Fracking. This was for the entirety of California, not just the area governed by the Central Coast office that is being discussed in this article.

The Monterey Shale was originally estimated to have 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil. But as we noted back in 2014, the EIA downgraded its estimate for this region to 600 million barrels.

That by itself would seem to be enough to scare off oil companies. If that’s all they could recover, then why bother? Apparently the oil companies felt it to be an important enough resource to proceed.

Resources – further reading

There is a lot of information to digest, and this is just the surface of the story. The LongTailPipe blog published several articles on this back in 2013-2015:

The next resource is affectionately known as DOI-BLM-CA-C090-2016-0035-RMP-EIS (Central Coast Field Office Oil and Gas Leasing and Development Rmp Amendment and EIS). That’s a very dry title, but it is an important cache of documents related to this project. The documents are incredibly dry, but what do you expect from bureaucrats. I apologize for the dryness of this article, but reading this kind of article makes one get into that bureaucrat mindset and write things very precisely.

More maps

The following maps come from the BLM documents linked above.

Oil and Gas leasing, open, closed and restricted areas
Oil and Gas Potential
Plays and active oil and gas wells in the CCFO area – Note that some of these are in heavily populated urban areas
Reasonably foreseeable oil and gas development potential – note that the urban areas are all marked as “low potential”
Alternative F – the chosen plan

Press Release from Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 4, 2019

Contact: Clare Lakewood, (415) 316-8615, clakewood@biologicaldiversity.org
Gabby Brown, Sierra Club, (914) 261-4626, gabby.brown@sierraclub.org

Trump Bucks Protests, Opens 725,500 Acres of California’s Central Coast to Oil Drilling

MARINA, Calif.— The Trump administration today dismissed protests and made a formal decision 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 and fracking.

The public lands the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has earmarked for leasing are in the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Merced, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Stanislaus.

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“This reckless move is the toxic convergence of Trump’s climate denial, loyalty to the oil industry and grudge against California,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Turning over these spectacular wild places to dirty drilling and fracking will sicken Californians, harm endangered species and fuel climate chaos. We’ll fight tooth and nail to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

The move will end a more than 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.

“The Trump administration is putting California’s communities and our climate at risk as they prioritize fossil fuel industry profits over our public lands and the health and safety of our families,” said Sierra Club campaign representative Jenny Binstock. “We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to push back against this irresponsible decision and to protect our public lands from fracking.”

Fracking is 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.

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

In 2016 Monterey County voters passed Measure Z, which bans fracking, new oil and gas wells and new waste-injection wells. San Benito County voters have also passed a ballot measure banning fracking. Alameda County has passed an ordinance banning fracking, and Santa Cruz County has passed an ordinance banning fracking and all other oil and gas development.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

News article from Common Dreams

Merging ‘Loyalty to the Oil Industry’ and ‘Grudge Against California,’ Trump Opens 725,000 Acres to Fossil Fuel Drilling

“Turning over these spectacular wild places to dirty drilling and fracking will sicken Californians, harm endangered species, and fuel climate chaos.”by Jake Johnson, staff writer

The Trump administration on Friday moved to open more than 725,000 acres of California’s central coast to potential oil and gas drilling, a decision environmentalists condemned as a disastrous handout to big polluters at a time when urgent action is needed to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

The move, announced by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), ends a five-year moratorium on leasing federal land in California to fossil fuel companies.

As Reuters reported, the BLM “has not held a lease sale in California since 2013, when a judge ruled that the agency illegally issued leases without analyzing the environmental impact of drilling called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.”

Clare Lakewood, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued BLM to stop the lease sales, said the agency’s “reckless move” on Friday represents “the toxic convergence of Trump’s climate denial, loyalty to the oil industry, and grudge against California.”

“Turning over these spectacular wild places to dirty drilling and fracking will sicken Californians, harm endangered species, and fuel climate chaos,” said Lakewood. “We’ll fight tooth and nail to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday that BLM’s decision “gives an immediate go-ahead to 14 drilling leases in San Benito, Monterey, and Fresno counties, mostly projects near existing drill sites, projects that have been pursued for years by fossil fuel companies looking to expand.”

“But the action also opens the door for new leases in eight other counties, raising the prospect of additional drilling in such spots as the Santa Cruz Mountains, the East Bay hills and eastern Santa Clara County,” according to the Chronicle.

Jenny Binstock, campaign representative with Sierra Club, said in a statement that the Trump administration “is putting California’s communities and our climate at risk as they prioritize fossil fuel industry profits over our public lands and the health and safety of our families.”

“We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to push back against this irresponsible decision and to protect our public lands from fracking,” Binstock added.

The above article carried this notice: Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

Department of Interior Press Release

Secretary Zinke Takes Immediate Action to Advance American Energy Independence

Date: March 29, 2017
Contact: Interior_Press@ios.doi.gov

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed two secretarial orders to advance American energy independence. The Secretary’s orders foster responsible development of coal, oil, gas, and renewable energy on federal and Tribal lands and initiate review of agency actions directed by President Trump’s executive order entitled “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” Secretary Zinke also signed a charter establishing a Royalty Policy Committee to ensure the public receives the full value of natural resources produced from federal lands. In signing the historic actions on energy independence, Secretary Zinke was joined by Members of Congress from western states and other stakeholders.

“Today I took action to sign a series of directives that put America on track to achieve the President’s vision for energy independence and bringing jobs back to communities across the country” said Secretary Zinke. “American energy powers our national and local economies. But for too many local communities, energy on public lands has been more of a missed opportunity and has failed to include local consultation and partnership. Today’s orders allow for Americans to benefit from safe and environmentally responsible development on federal lands and put America on track for energy independence.”

Secretarial Order 3348 overturns the 2016 moratorium on all new coal leases on federal land and ends the programmatic environmental impacts statement that was set to be completed no sooner than 2019. Based upon the Department’s review of Secretary’s Order 3338, the order notes that, “the public interest is not served by halting the federal coal program for an extended time, nor is a PEIS required to consider potential improvements to the program.” The order notes that the federal coal leasing program supplies approximately 40 percent of the coal produced in the United States and is critically important to the U.S. economy.

Secretarial Order 3349 implements review of agency actions directed by the President’s Executive Order signed yesterday on energy independence. It also directs a reexamination of the mitigation and climate change policies and guidance across the Department of the Interior in order to better balance conservation strategies and policies with the equally legitimate need of creating jobs for hardworking American families. In particular, the order sets a timetable for review of agency actions that may hamper responsible energy development and reconsideration of regulations related to U.S. oil and natural gas development.

In an effort to ensure the public continues to receive the full value of natural resources produced on federal lands, Secretary Zinke also signed a charter establishing a Royalty Policy Committee to provide regular advice to the Secretary on the fair market value of and collection of revenues from Federal and Indian mineral and energy leases, include renewable energy sources. The Committee may also advise on the potential impacts of proposed policies and regulations related to revenue collection from such development, including whether a need exists for regulatory reform. The group will consist of up to 28 local, Tribal, state, and other stakeholders and will serve in an advisory.

Secretary Zinke added that, “It’s important that taxpayers get the full value of traditional and renewable energy produced on public lands and that we ensure companies conduct environmental reviews under NEPA and have reclamation plans.”

Secretary Zinke issued the following statement regarding the President’s executive order on energy independence:

“American energy production benefits the economy, the environment, and national security. First, it’s better for the environment that the U.S. produces energy. Thanks to advancements in drilling and mining technology, we can responsibly develop our energy resources and return the land to equal or better quality than it was before. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Middle East, and I can tell you with 100 percent certainty it is better to develop our energy here under reasonable regulations and export it to our allies, rather than have it produced overseas under little or no regulations. Second, energy production is an absolute boon to the economy, supporting more than 6.4 million jobs and supplying affordable power for manufacturing, home heating, and transportation needs. In many communities coal jobs are the only jobs. Former Chairman Old Coyote of the Crow Tribe in my home state of Montana said it best, ‘there are no jobs like coal jobs.’ I hope to return those jobs to the Crow people. And lastly, achieving American energy independence will strengthen our national security by reducing our reliance on foreign oil and allowing us to assist our allies with their energy needs. As a military commander, I saw how the power of the American economy and American energy defeated our adversaries around the world. We can do it again to keep Americans safe.”

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

One Comment

  1. WOW, this is fantastically comprehensive, thank you for collecting and coherently posting all this information, I will direct others to the site.

    Perhaps if only in the FWIW category, I want to post my thoughts about this, and all such similar activities. I believe the fairest thing to do is to assess potential harm to the community, and then require equivalent insurance or a bond against that potential harm. Then, make the appropriate economic decision.

    Say a fracking company were to pollute the water table, such that for decades thereafter your pollution had to be removed from the water: these are calculable costs, and so require a bond against that cost. Say a fracking company were to cause an earthquake: calculate the potential damage, and require a bond against that cost. Say a fracking company were to cause widespread subsidence: calculate the total cost of repair, and require a bond against that cost.

    I would guess that the cost of insuring or bonding these things — let’s use a fair round value: $1B — would mean that it is no longer an economically viable commercial pursuit. To my mind, this is how it should be regarding calculable potential harms: you typically cannot recover afterwards given the insubstantial nature of corporate enterprise, so make them insure/bond up front. (This is part of my broad theory that everything should cost what it costs.)

    Because fracking carries with it known and predictable potential for harm, and because that harm has a real cost, and it must be added to the cost of the process. Then just do the math. The punchline is that if the risk of harm exceeds the value of the process and makes that process economically unfeasible… then obviously you decide not to do it.

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