Legal settlement continues freeze on public land oil and gas leases

May 4, 2017

A legal settlement this week will make it harder for the Trump administration to open federally-owned public lands to oil and gas development, particularly on the Central Coast.

The settlement ends a lawsuit brought by the groups Los Padres ForestWatch, Earthjustice and the Center for Biological Diversity against the Bureau of Land Management, over its plan to auction drilling rights on one million acres in the Central Valley and southern Sierra mountains, and San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

“We did not think that was an appropriate use of our precious public lands here throughout our region, and so the settlement we reached today with the BLM basically sends the agency back to the drawing board,” Jeff Kuyper, executive director of the Los Padres ForestWatch.

After two years of negotiations, this week all parties came to an agreement, which was approved by the region’s U.S. District Court. The BLM will now have to launch a new analysis of pollution risks from fracking, said the Center for Biological Diversity. While the lawsuit was filed in mid-2015, during the Obama administration, the plaintiffs says the settlement is even more of a victory now.

“Here on the Central Coast, we are really lucky to this vast network of public lands ranging from the Los Padres Forest to the Carrizo Plain,” Kuyper said. “These areas are valued for the benefits they provide to our communities, both economic and environmental. So we hope that the Trump administration takes this opportunity seriously to go back and reevaluate the best use of our public lands.”

The settlement continues a current de facto moratorium on oil and gas leasing in California.

On Friday afternoon, the day after our report aired, the BLM provided this statement via email: "The Bureau of Land Management and plaintiffs developed the settlement in order to resolve the issues identified by the district court,” said Gabe Garcia, BLM Bakersfield field manager. “We look forward to working with our stakeholders to review hydraulic fracturing in a supplemental environment review document using the best science available." 

The Center for Biological Diversity said last year, a federal judge noted “the public lands at stake in [this week’s] settlement encompass 'numerous groundwater systems that contribute to the annual water supply used by neighboring areas for agricultural and urban purposes.'"