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.
Alameda Becomes 5th County in California to Ban Fracking https://t.co/DKMoMHkHn4 #ClimateHour https://t.co/lb7ceyERt8— #ClimateHour (@#ClimateHour)1469325490.0
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.
Huge Victory for Environmentalists: Offshore Fracking Moratorium Now in Effect Off California's Coast https://t.co/wuA1wMp3GG @Anti_Fracking— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1454364928.0
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.