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

Sierra Club and CBD Win Major Fracking Lawsuit Victory:
Federal Judge Rules that BLM Failed to Consider Effects of Fracking on Oil Leases

April 2013
Steelhead rescue, Carmel River South Monterey County land near Lockwood-San Ardo Road looking northeast across BLM Lease Parcel 15 towards the Salinas Valley. Parcel 15 was auctioned off in December by BLM in spite of Sierra Club and CBD protests. Sierra Club is considering litigation in federal court. This is an area of prime inner Coast Range habitat with a mosaic of vegetation including Chaparral, Oak and Foothill Pine Woodland. (Photo: Nikki Nedeff)

On April 7, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) won a challenge to Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) September 2011 mineral lease sale, which leased roughly 2700 acres for oil and gas development in Fresno and Monterey counties.

Federal Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal granted the Club's motion for summary judgment on the primary issue, which was that BLM failed to consider the effects of fracking.

The potential consequences of this ruling are very significant, as Monterey County is believed to have one of the largest deposits of shale oil in the nation.

In issuing his ruling, the judge stated that fracking both makes oil and gas production more likely, and it increases the risk of oil and gas production that does occur.

On the first issue, BLM's entire National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis was predicated on a 2006 “reasonably foreseeable development” forecast for the region. Based on this forecast, BLM concluded that at most one exploratory well but no production wells were likely be drilled on the leased acreage. The Club and CBD successfully argued that BLM needed to consider whether the advent of fracking and unconventional production made continued reliance on this scenario arbitrary and capricious, as now that industry knows how to get oil out of previously inaccessible rock, industry is likely to drill more if given the chance.

On the second issue, the court found that BLM failed to consider the risks attributable of fracking itself, including risks of contamination of the San Antonio and Nacimiento reservoirs.

Monterey County Supervisors Dave Potter and Simon Salinas were two local representatives who had sought the delay of the 2012 lease sales. Citing concern for water issues and the potential for earthquakes, both said the court decision was a victory for the environment.

The Ventana Chapter Executive Committee has voted to support and contribute costs to efforts by Sierra Club and CBD to file administrative protests of two additional BLM lease sales in the same region, raising the same issues which prevailed in this case. BLM recently denied the Club and CBD's protest regarding the subsequent December 2012 lease sale, and the Club now has the option of challenging this decision in federal court. We have also protested BLM's upcoming May 2013 lease sale.

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