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Judge Strikes Down Plan to Open California Lands to Fracking
A California judge struck down a bid Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to expropriate more than 1 million acres in central California for oil drilling.
Judge Michael Fitzgerald found that the BLM failed to consider the dangers of fracking, which is part of the formal application process. Two environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch, brought the lawsuit against the BLM.
A California judge has blocked BLM from issuing leases for more than 1 million acres for failing to address how fracking would impact area.
"The bureau failed to take a 'hard look' at the environmental impact of the resource management plan, when, under the RMP, 25 percent of new wells are expected to use hydraulic fracturing," Judge Fitzgerald said in his ruling.
"The bureau is therefore obligated to prepare a substantial EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] to analyze the environmental consequences flowing from the use of hydraulic fracturing."
The bureau's 1,073-page impact statement only mentioned fracking three times, SFGate reported. BLM had commissioned a report from the California Council on Science and Technology two years ago, the judge noted. However, commissioning the study does not absolve the BLM from further analyzing the impact of fracking on the area for its current permit, Fitzgerald added.
The area in question involves the following counties: Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura.
The agency has until Sept. 21 to present arguments as to why the judge should not issue an injunction to stop the plan.
The contested land area provides shelter to more than one-third of the federally listed threatened and endangered species, as well as groundwater systems that provide water for agricultural and residential purposes, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Environmentalists lauded the ruling.
"The Obama administration must get the message and end this reckless rush to auction off our public land to oil companies," Brendan Cummings, Center for Biological Diversity's conservation director, said. "As California struggles against drought and climate change, we've got to end fracking and leave this dirty oil in the ground."
ForestWatch executive director Jeff Kuyper also praised the ruling: "This ruling will protect public lands from the crest of the Sierra Nevada to the Central Coast from an influx of oil development and fracking. These treasured landscapes provide many benefits to our local communities and are too valuable to sacrifice for a few days' supply of oil."
But, the petroleum industry wasn't as happy with the ruling.
"Hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation treatments in California have undergone rigorous analysis and review, culminating in the most stringent environmental standards nationwide," Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said. "Countless independent, state and federal science-based studies all agree. Hydraulic fracturing, when regulated, remains a safe technology that provides enormous benefits to American businesses and customers."
This latest ruling is not the first time a federal judge has blocked BLM from developing California land because of its failure to consider the environmental implications of fracking.
In 2013, a different judge ruled that the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act by issuing oil leases on Monterey County land without doing necessary studies on the impact of fracking. BLM is still completing an environmental review on fracking, and has not been able to issue any leases in that area.
California has been a battleground state between companies eager to frack for oil and gas, and anti-fracking campaigns. So far, five California counties have banned the industrial practice, with Alameda County becoming the latest to do so.
Santa Cruz, San Benito, Mendocino and Butte counties have also banned fracking, while Monterey County will vote on the issue this November. Environmental groups are tackling the issue county by county after California Gov. Jerry Brown came out against a state-wide ban against fracking in June 2015.
Fracking may also be exacerbating California's long-standing drought. In 2014, the California Department of Gas and Geothermal Resources issued an order to shut down 11 fracked wells over concerns that they were contaminating sources of drinking water. The agency also placed 100 additional wells under consideration to determine whether they were contaminating water.
In February, EcoWatch reported that the federal government will not issue any new permits for offshore fracking in California following the settlement of a case, brought by the Center for Biological Diversity. In the lawsuit, Center for Biological Diversity said that federal regulators were providing permits for fracking activities without duly considering the larger impact on wildlife and coastal communities.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.