It's Official: Feds Open Up Central California to More Drilling

Pump jacks are seen at dawn in an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil is extracted using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the Trump administration pushed forward a plan to open up more than a million acres of public lands to fracking and drilling in eight counties of Central California.

The Bureau of Land Management finalized the plan, which ends a federal moratorium on offering new leases in the state. The move follows a similar October ruling to open up nearly 800,000 acres for gas and oil extraction in parts of the Central Coast as well as land in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, although the likelihood of new production there is slim.

Thursday's action further inflamed tensions between the federal government, which is barreling ahead with policies to expand domestic oil and gas production, and California and environmentalists, who want to scale back fossil fuel extraction. The state is pursuing increased oversight of fracking, for instance, recently moving to review its permitting process for drilling and passing a moratorium on some types of high-pressure well injections.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra immediately criticized the Trump administration’s plan, calling it “patently deficient.”

Last June, the state’s top attorney challenged a draft of the plan, arguing that officials failed to analyze how new drilling could harm residents and the environment.

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“That’s not how we do things in California,” Becerra said in an emailed statement. “We’re prepared to do whatever we must to protect the health and safety of our people. We intend to be good stewards of our public lands.”

Gustavo Aguirre Jr., Kern County director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network, argues that fossil fuel extraction is a step backward in the fight against climate change and exposes people who live in San Joaquin Valley to increased levels of pollution.

“This is just another system of oppression to these communities who are already overburdened,” he said. “This is not welcom(e) news at all.”

With the Trump administration providing the greenlight for new drilling, the focus now turns to energy companies. Industry experts say they have shown little interest in developing the areas that the administration is opening up.

BLM regional staff say they have received thousands of written comments from people who are concerned about the plan and promised to consider objections, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Peter Jon Shuler contributed reporting to this story. 

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