For Immediate Release, August 1, 2022

Contact:

Liz Jones, Center for Biological Diversity, (310) 365-9281, ljones@biologicaldiversity.org
Cesar Aguirre, Central California Environmental Justice Network, (661) 979-2721, cesar.aguirre@ccejn.org
Jeff Kuyper, Los Padres ForestWatch, (805) 770-3401, jeff@lpfw.org
Liam Kelly, National Parks Conservation Association, (213) 814-8666, lkelly@npca.org
Daniel Rossman, The Wilderness Society, (415) 398-1111, daniel_rossman@tws.org
J.J. Huggins, Patagonia, (508) 633-7655, john.huggins@patagonia.com
Morgan Caplan, Sierra Club, (443) 986-1221, morgan.caplan@sierraclub.org
Brittany Miller, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0746, bmiller@foe.org
Michelle Ghafar, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2186, mghafar@earthjustice.org
Kari Birdseye, Natural Resources Defense Council, (415) 350-7562, kbirdseye@nrdc.org

Legal Agreements Block Drilling, Fracking Across 1 Million Acres in Central California

BAKERSFIELD, Calif.— Community and conservation groups and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management reached an agreement today to suspend new oil and gas leasing across more than 1 million acres of public lands in California’s Central Valley and Central Coast.

A separate agreement also requires the Bureau to conduct new environmental analysis before drilling is allowed on 4,000 acres leased in December 2020 in Kern County.

“These agreements require federal officials to disclose the harm that fracking does to the air, water and communities of Central California,” said Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “For decades this region’s people and wildlife have been paying the price of filthy fossil fuel extraction. That has to end, and we’ll do everything possible to make sure these pauses become permanent bans.”

Today’s agreements resolving the two cases follow two previous successful lawsuits filed by climate and community groups that prevented new onshore oil and gas leasing in California from 2012 to 2020.

“Protecting public lands is not only a step forward, but also a way to prevent several steps back,” said Cesar Aguirre, a senior organizer with the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “Using public lands to prop up the oil industry is dangerous to our green spaces and communities. We must protect our public lands not only for us to enjoy, but for us to protect Earth. Green spaces should not fall victim to oil drilling, especially because the extraction sites are the epicenter of the climate crisis. The less epicenters that are approved the less steps back we take.

In 2019 the Bureau broke the leasing moratorium and reopened 1.2 million acres of federal public land to drilling and fracking in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties. That came despite opposition from 35,000 people and 85 community and advocacy groups.

Environmental justice, conservation and business groups and the state of California filed lawsuits to challenge the management plan, citing the Bureau’s failure to fully evaluate the significant harms of fracking to communities and the environment.

“Today’s agreement protects the iconic landscapes that define central California, safeguards public health, and moves us closer to a cleaner energy future,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch. “Fossil fuel extraction has wreaked havoc on our public lands, our farms and our neighborhoods for far too long. We now have an opportunity to chart a new course for safe and healthy communities throughout our region.”

“This agreement provides a long overdue reprieve for local communities and nearby national parks like Sequoia and Kings Canyon, which already face climate change driven drought, high temperatures and annual wildfires, as well as some of the worst air quality in the nation,” said Mark Rose, Sierra Nevada program manager with National Parks Conservation Association. “Opening up over one million acres for oil and gas drilling in one of the most polluted regions of the country was an egregious decision by the Bakersfield Bureau of Land Management under the previous administration, and we are happy to see the Biden administration taking steps to protect California’s overburdened communities and environment.”

“Central Valley residents and grassroots activists work every day to make their communities healthy, and today they got a win in the fight against air and groundwater pollution from oil and gas development,” said Daniel Rossman, California deputy director with The Wilderness Society. “This agreement represents an important step towards ensuring our public lands are managed to prioritize people, clean air, clean water, and climate over fossil fuel industry profits.”

“The future of our business depends on the health of the planet, especially the wild places loved by our community,” said Hans Cole, head of environmental activism at Patagonia. “We’re grateful to have worked with our NGO partners to require a full evaluation of the impacts of drilling and fracking on public lands in Central California. This is a win for the environment.”

In December 2020 the Trump administration relied on the same flawed environmental review to auction seven parcels of public land in Kern County for drilling and fracking. Conservation groups also challenged that decision. Parcels sold include land within an area of critical environmental concern and land neighboring Carrizo Plain National Monument.

“Today’s win is a testament to the grassroots activism of Central Valley communities, who have fought oil and gas leasing in their backyards and supported people, public health, wildlife and climate,” said Nathan Matthews, a Sierra Club senior attorney. “Temporarily halting drilling on these lease parcels in Kern County is an important step toward stopping the unconscionable move of opening up new federal public lands for oil and gas leasing in the Central Valley, a region already overburdened by impacts of oil and gas extraction. The Biden administration should implement a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal public lands.”

Developed leases would disproportionately harm people who live in the region. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half of Kern County residents are Latinx and nearly 20% of residents live below the poverty line.

“This is a win not only for the environment and climate, but for the people who call Kern County home,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “It is a disgrace that the federal government attempted to greenlight these leases without fully analyzing impacts on communities living nearby. Our victory has also worked to secure Spanish translation of pertinent documents, and live translation at public hearings, so that all stakeholders can truly have a seat at the table.”

New drilling would have intensified air and water pollution in the region, which already has some of the most polluted air in the nation and faces water scarcity and drought.

“The Bureau has repeatedly authorized oil and gas development in Central California without taking a hard look at the severe consequences to local communities or the environment,” said Michelle Ghafar, senior attorney with Earthjustice. “The agency must stop and fully evaluate the community and environmental impacts of all the oil and gas expansion it is authorizing on public land in order to comply with the law.”

Several analyses also show that climate pollution from the world’s already-producing fossil fuel developments, if fully developed, would push warming past 1.5 degrees Celsius. Avoiding such warming requires ending investment in new fossil fuel projects, including new federal oil and gas leasing, according to the International Energy Agency.

“Fracking on California’s public lands in the midst of our climate crisis and drought was always a pretty dubious idea and was straight-up unacceptable without proper environmental review,” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s crucial that the BLM takes the time to evaluate what opening up these lands to drilling would look like for local communities, who already live with crippling water shortages and some of the worst air in the country.”

Today’s agreements are subject to court approval.

Background

Fossil fuel extraction on federal public lands causes nearly a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution, worsening the climate and extinction crises and disproportionately harming Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-wealth communities.

Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate policy proposals in recent years.

Oil and gas extraction uses well pads, gas lines, roads and other infrastructure that destroys habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Oil spills, leaks and other harms from drilling have done immense damage to wildlife and communities. Fracking and drilling also pollutes watersheds and waterways that provide drinking water to millions of people.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Central California Environmental Justice Network has been promoting environmental justice in the San Joaquin Valley since 2000. Our mission is to preserve our natural resources by seeking to minimize or eliminate environmental degradation in the San Joaquin Valley. CCEJN focuses on advancing community resilience in disadvantaged communities by increasing the level of recognition of adverse health effects caused by pollution and serving as a hub for environmental activism in the Central Valley.

Los Padres ForestWatch is a community-supported nonprofit organization working to protect the Los Padres National Forest, Carrizo Plain National Monument, and other public lands throughout central California.

Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.6 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations.

The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 111 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands.

Patagonia is a Certified Benefit Corporation based in Ventura, CA that is recognized internationally for product quality and environmental activism. Patagonia has contributed more than $145 million in grants and in-kind donations to date to grassroots nonprofits working to protect people and the planet.

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action.

Friends of the Earth fights to protect our environment and create a healthy and just world. We speak truth to power and expose those who endanger people and the planet. Our campaigns work to hold politicians and corporations accountable, transform our economic systems, protect our forests and oceans, and revolutionize our food & agriculture systems.

Earthjustice, the nation’s premier nonprofit environmental law organization, wields the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at http://www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.