Environmental Groups Sue To Halt California Fracking

The environmental groups, The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, are suing to halt California fracking on federal lands. According to the lawsuit, the Bureau of Land Management leased over 2,500 acres of land in Monterey and Fresno counties to oil company representatives without first conducting a full analysis of the potential fracking impacts.

As we’ve long explained, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is an invasive process by which a cocktail of water, sand, and chemicals is injected into the ground at high pressure to shake loose natural gas deposits locked in shale formations. The fluids can contain benzene, diesel, and other toxin and, because of a loophole in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, regulation is typically handled on a state-by-state basis and energy companies are not mandated to disclose the chemicals used in their fluids to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The California leases, said Bakersfield.com, were auctioned this September for $257,051 to Neil Ormond. Ormand is an agent for Vinton Exploration, of Austin; LoneTree Energy & Associates, which is based in Colorado and acts as a broker for an undisclosed oil and gas exploration company; and Vintage Production California, LLC, which is a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, said Bakersfield.com.

Plaintiffs allege that the auction violated the National Environmental Policy Act, which mandates the Bureau conduct a complete analysis of oil or gas drilling environmental impacts, said Bakersfield.com. While the Bureau’s environmental assessment revealed that fracking would pose no significant impact, plaintiffs argued that, “They didn’t do any real analysis of what fracking would mean out there,” such as possible effects on endangered species or local water supplies. This, despite that fracking would likely be used, said Kassie Siegel, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity and director of its Climate Law Institute, wrote Bakersfield.com. “They cite some misleading, older information which says, well, fracking’s no problem,” she said.

We’ve long explained that fracking opponents worry that fracking could pollute vital drinking water sources, either through the release of naturally occurring hazardous substances from underground, or fracking fluid or fracking wastewater spills or leaks. Fracking proponents tout increased jobs and a reduced reliance on foreign energy, saying this will help the ailing economy; however, studies indicate that fracking fluids often contain hazardous, carcinogenic chemicals. Opponents cite water so contaminated it is flammable; devastated, dangerous infrastructures; significant damage to the environment; and adverse human, animal, aquatic, and atmospheric health.

The California parcels, which sit on the Monterey Shale, contain watersheds for Monterey County and a habitat for threatened and endangered species, including the kit fox and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, said Bakersfield.com. Oil company, Venocco, estimates that the sale can possibly yield over 100 million barrels of oil, which must be extracted via fracking. Most of the land is used for grazing, said Erin Curtis, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management.

Meanwhile, we just wrote that, for the first time, groundwater pollution has been linked to hydraulic fracturing. According to a statement released by the EPA, chemicals in an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyoming are “likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.” Encana Corp. (ECA), Canada’s largest natural- gas producer, owns about 150 wells in Pavillion. As we’ve reported previously, residents of Pavillion have long maintained that fracking was fouling their drinking water wells, and the EPA has been investigating since 2008. Last year, the EPA warned some Pavillion residents not to drink or cook with their well water and to ventilate their homes when they showered. Encana has been providing drinking water to about 21 families in Pavillion since August, 2010.

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