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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity Win a Major Fracking Decision for Central California

August 2013
Salinas Valley Twilight The Salinas Valley is under pressure for private oil and gas leasing. This will threaten prime agricultural land, water supplies and human health as well as destroy the unique natural landscape of our region. Photograph: Steve Zmak

On August 2, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it would halt two hydraulic fracturing leases for oil drilling on federal lands managed by their Hollister BLM office and covering several counties including Monterey. This decision came in the wake of a legal victory earlier this year in a suit brought by Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which challenged the BLM's decision to auction off about 2,500 acres of land in Monterey County to oil companies. The BLM has now further agreed to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate the effects and risks of fracking in the Monterey Shale, a region stretching from Ventura to Santa Cruz Counties.

This decision by the BLM follows a U.S. Northern CA District Court ruling in April that concluded that the BLM had violated the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA. The Court ruled that BLM failed to consider the increased development potential of hydraulic fracturing and that BLM's decision to rely upon an out of date environmental assessment was arbitrary and capricious. The Court further ruled that the BLM would have to conclude that environmental impacts were potentially significant and that the new drilling techniques warranted a new EIS.

This legal case was originally brought by the Sierra Club and CBD in December 2011. In April this year, the plaintiffs filed a second case challenging a larger 17,000-acre BLM oil lease in the same region of the Monterey Shale. The Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club provided funds to partially cover the costs of these legal actions.

Hydraulic fracturing is not the only newer form of drilling technology involved. The Oil Industry has stated that acid treatment or "acid jobs" are expected to be a common technique in the Monterey Shale. This technique will use a cocktail of hydrofluoric acid and other chemicals to dissolve rocks and other earthen materials in oil wells to allowing oil to flow more freely for extraction.

Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technology has become notorious for its contamination of ground water in numerous states stretching from Pennsylvania to Wyoming. Extensive evidence has accumulated to show that oil and gas wells commonly leak fracking contaminants into ground water basins through which the oil well casing passes to reach the petrochemicals that can be miles deep in the earth. Oil wells are sealed with cements that fill the space between the drill hole and the well pipe or casing. These cement plugs commonly fail and allow contaminants and fracking chemicals to rise from deep in the earth and pollute shallower ground water. The well pipes (casings) themselves also crack and corrode. Fracking uses extreme water pressure to break up rock miles deep in the earth. The well sites are major industrial facilities and are nothing like the older pump jacks that have operated in California for the last hundred years.

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