On April 25, 2019, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a new draft report supplementing its previous reports proposing new oil and gas development near Bakersfield, California. If finalized, the agency’s plan will entail drilling more than 100-400 wells per year on 400,000 acres of public land and 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate.

The BLM’s supplemental report comes in response to a 2017 lawsuit in which environmental groups alleged that the BLM’s 2014 proposed Resource Management Plan (2014 Plan) violated the National Environmental Policy Act. Judge Michael Fitzgerald of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted the environmental groups’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the BLM’s initial plans failed to take a “hard look” at the potential environmental impact of the proposed hydraulic fracking. On May 3, 2017, the parties filed a settlement agreement in which BLM agreed to re-review its 2014 Plan.

Now, after further review, the BLM sees no reason to update the 2014 Plan. In its supplemental report, the agency claims to have found “no conflicts . . . between the estimated impacts of hydraulic fracturing and the resource or program management goals and objectives” set forth in the 2014 Plan. The additional review did not reveal any “notable increases” to the Plan’s estimated total environmental impact.

So far, the BLM’s new report has received harsh criticism from environmental groups concerned about the potential negative effects of hydraulic fracking. According to the BLM, however, due to the nature of California’s reservoirs, hydraulic fracking in the proposed region is typically performed in a vertical manner to stimulate wells and access small pockets. As a result, only “a relatively small number of new [California] wells are hydraulic fractured,” with most of the fracking occurring in old fields on existing leases. Nevertheless, environmental groups are still expected to pursue further legal action.

As it is currently written, the BLM report does not intend to alter any existing rights or authorities of private landowners or surface management agencies. The public may submit written comments from now until June 10.

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