Feds Open California's Central Coast For New Oil Drilling

Pump jacks and wells are seen in an oil field on the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is on the verge of a boom on March 23, 2014 near McKittrick, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

The federal government has opened 722,000 acres of land to new leases for oil and gas drilling across the Central Coast of California.

The Bureau of Land Management’s decision is the latest example of the Trump administration’s push to expand domestic fracking and oil production, and it opens up parts of the Bay Area, including Alameda and Contra Costa counties, for potential drilling -- although the likelihood of new production there is slim.

Still, environmental groups said the decision flies in the face of local opposition, and they decried it as reckless, promising to sue.

“Turning over these spectacular wild places to dirty drilling and fracking will sicken Californians, harm endangered species and fuel climate chaos,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.

For many years, dating back to the Obama administration, the Interior Department, which oversees the bureau, has sought a new oil and gas leasing plan for the Central Coast of California.

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While the decision opens up land for new leases, it does not give the greenlight to any new drilling, at least not yet.

As part of the decision, the Bureau of Land Management issued 14 new leases to projects around existing oil fields, but the companies will still need to file applications for drilling permits and conduct site-specific environmental analysis.

Serena Baker, a spokeswoman for the agency’s regional office, said this plan meets goals outlined by President Donald Trump, who has pushed a doctrine of “energy dominance” and called for increased development of fossil fuel resources and job creation in an executive order.

“This plan supports the administration's priority of promoting environmentally responsible energy development,” she said.

The agency estimates that the oil and gas industry accounts for 3,000 jobs and $620 million in tax revenue across its Central Coast territory.

Baker said that BLM expects oil and gas development in this part of California only around existing oil and gas fields in Fresno, Monterrey, and San Benito County.

When asked if the agency expects any new drilling in the Bay Area, Baker said, “We do not.”

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