Federal judge stops Monterey Shale fracking leases, Judge finds risks ‘completely ignored’

Federal judge stops Monterey Shale fracking leases by Patrick M. Klemz, April 11, 2013, New Times, Volume 27, Issue 37
U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal put the brakes on plans by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to allow oil operators to drill exploratory wells on 2,500 federal acres in southern Monterey County. If those operators had struck oil, they would likely have drilled new wells to be fracked. … Grewal ruled that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it summarily relied on reports compiled by the agency in 2006 to support a late 2011 decision to allow drilling. NEPA requires that agencies conduct an in-depth project review when a federal decision is likely to cause significant environmental effects. “BLM’s dismissal of any development scenario involving fracking as ‘outside it’s jurisdiction’ simply did not provide the ‘hard look’ at the issue that NEPA requires,” Grewal wrote.

Ruling on Monterey fracking knocks regulators; Bill Advances in Senate by KQED News, April 9, 2013
Pavley’s bill also would bar the Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) from issuing fracking permits until the state completes a study into drilling’s risks. That provision worries Rock Zierman of the California Independent Petroleum Association. “We’ve seen this tactic used in other states, particularly in New York where they’ve been working on a study now for four years, so it becomes a de facto moratorium,” he told lawmakers at the Tuesday morning hearing. … Shale drilling is already underway in the Monterey formation, and legislators like Pavley are aiming to stop the the kind of thing the Central Valley Regional Water Board is accusing a Kern County driller of doing. On Tuesday, the board announced it is investigating Vintage Production California for allegedly dumping fracking wastewater into an unprotected pit. The board’s investigation was sparked by this 2012 YouTube video showing the drilling company dumping fracking water into a trench next to its drilling site.

As the board’s release notes, proper fracking operations in the region use portable tanks that capture hydraulic fracking wastewater and contain it for proper disposal, or obtain the required environmental permits to discharge the material into systems designed to protect surface and ground water quality. The Senate hearing followed a court ruling on Sunday that found fault with the way federal regulators have permitted fracking in Monterey County.

Winning bidders would still need to be granted an additional permit from the bureau in order to start drilling using traditional technologies, or hydraulic fracturing, a technique to extract hard-to-reach gas and oil by pummeling rocks deep underground with high-pressure water, sand and chemicals.

Bureau spokesman David Christy said Monday afternoon he could not immediately comment on the decision as the agency had not had time to review it, but said officials planned to meet with the other parties according to the judge’s direction.

Fracking Ruling

Judge rules administration overlooked fracking risks in California mineral leases by Rory Carroll, April 9, 2013, Reuters
A federal judge has ruled the Obama administration broke the law when it issued oil leases in central California without fully weighing the environmental impact of “fracking,” a setback for companies seeking to exploit the region’s enormous energy resources. The decision, made public on Monday, effectively bars for the time being any drilling on two tracts of land comprising 2,500 acres leased for oil and gas development in 2011 by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management in Monterey County.  The tracts lie atop a massive bed of sedimentary rock known as the Monterey Shale Formation, estimated by the Energy Department to contain more than 15 billion barrels of oil, equal to 64 percent of the total U.S. shale oil reserves. Most of that oil is not economically retrievable except by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a production-boosting technique in which large amounts of water, sand and chemicals are injected into shale formations to force hydrocarbon fuels to the surface. … U.S. District Judge Paul Grewal in San Jose ruled that the federal government erred, and violated U.S. environmental law, in declining to conduct a full-fledged environmental impact study of its oil leasing for the Monterey Formation.


Grewal held that BLM’s analysis was flawed because it “did not adequately consider the development impact of hydraulic fracturing techniques … when used in combination with technologies such as horizontal drilling.” “The potential risk for contamination from fracking, while unknown, is not so remote or speculative to be completely ignored,” Grewal wrote. But the judge stopped short of ordering the leases canceled, as sought by environmental groups. Instead, he ordered the parties to confer and either submit a joint plan of action if they can agree or prepare to argue their respective cases for a remedy if they cannot. “In any event, it is clear from the order and the general requirements of the law that BLM cannot allow drilling on the leases until and unless it completes a more thorough environmental review,” said Brendan Cummings, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, which brought the suit with the Sierra Club. … “It’s the first federal court opinion we’re aware of that explicitly holds that federal agencies have to analyze the environmental impacts of fracking when carrying out an oil and gas leasing program,” Cummings told Reuters. [Emphasis added]

Fracking foes in California win in court by David R. Baker, April 8, 2013, San Fransisco Chronicle
Fracking opponents in California have won what may be their first victory in court, with a federal magistrate’s ruling that federal authorities broke the law when they leased land in Monterey and Fresno counties to oil drillers without studying the possible risks of hydraulic fracturing. … “Their default position is, ‘Lease as much land as you can,’ ” said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s a recalcitrant agency that’s been captured by the extractive industries.” [Emphasis added]

First California Fracking Challenge Is Defeat for U.S. by Karen Gullo, April 8, 2013, Bloomberg
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management violated an environmental law by failing to take the necessary “hard look” at the impact of hydraulic fracturing when it sold oil and gas leases in California, a federal judge said. 
 The decision is the first federal court opinion to explicitly recognize the significant risks and controversies created by the spread of fracking across the U.S., said attorneys for the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued in 2011 to invalidate the leases.“This is an important decision that recognizes the significant risks that fracking poses to California’s land, air and water,” Brendan Cummings, senior counsel for the group, said in an e-mail. “In an era of dangerous climate change, the federal government should not be leasing public land for extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction.” [Emphasis added]

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