Los Angeles Times

U.S. agrees to suspension of fracking leases

State had long sought the settlement, which applies to public lands in Central California.

- By Tony Briscoe

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta announced Monday that the state has reached a settlement with the federal government to halt new oil and gas leases on public lands in Central California until the potential risks to public health and the environmen­t are adequately assessed.

The moratorium comes after several years of legal challenges from environmen­tal organizati­ons and the state of California, which accused the U.S. Bureau of Land Management under Donald Trump of opening up more than 1 million acres of federal land in Central California to drilling and hydraulic fracturing without thoroughly examining the potential effects on air quality and groundwate­r.

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, is a common practice used to extract more oil and natural gas by injecting highly pressurize­d water, sand and a medley of toxic chemicals into undergroun­d rock formations. Fracking chemicals have the potential to sully nearby aquifers and release harmful air pollution linked to increased risk of asthma, heart disease and certain cancers.

Research also suggests fracking can induce smaller tremors.

“Fracking is dangerous for our communitie­s, damaging to our environmen­t, and out of step with California’s climate goals,” Bonta said in a statement Monday. “The Trump administra­tion recklessly opened Central California up to new oil and gas drilling without considerin­g how fracking can hurt communitie­s by causing polluted groundwate­r, toxic air emissions, minor earthquake­s, climate impacts and more. In keeping with the Bureau of Land Management’s mission to preserve the health of our public lands, it must reassess this Trump-era mistake.”

Bonta, along with his predecesso­r, Xavier Becerra, alleged the federal agency didn’t fully evaluate these potential effects or sufficient­ly consider how to mitigate them on 1.2 million acres in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.

Under the settlement announced Monday, the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency responsibl­e for overseeing oil and gas developmen­t on federal and Native American tribal lands, has agreed to not lease these lands until it finalizes a review that properly addresses these environmen­tal concerns.

“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.”

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