Environmental Groups Sue Trump Administration Over Fracking

By Brad Jones
Brad Jones
Brad Jones
Brad Jones is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California.
January 17, 2020Updated: January 29, 2020

Environmental groups trying to halt hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in California have banded together to sue the Trump administration, claiming the oil and gas extraction method harms climate, water, and wildlife, and could even trigger earthquakes.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Jan. 14, follows a Dec. 12, 2019, decision by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that leaves more than a million acres of public lands in California open to oil and gas extraction. 

Meanwhile, the BLM argues that much of the public land that’s the focus of the lawsuit was already open to oil and gas extraction for the past three decades. 

[President Donald] “Trump’s illegal, deeply unjust fracking plan would be a disaster for Central Valley communities, as well as our climate, wildlife, and water,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), in a statement issued Jan. 14. “We need to phase out fracking and oil drilling, not throw open our public lands to polluters. The future of our beautiful state and our children depends on it.”

CBD is joined in the suit by Earthjustice, which represents several other groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Central California Environmental Justice Network, Los Padres ForestWatch, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, Patagonia Works, and the Wilderness Society. 

BLM spokesman Derrick Henry downplayed concerns raised by the environmental groups in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times.

“The BLM’s supplemental analysis on hydraulic fracturing did not make any new public lands or federal minerals available to oil and gas development, nor did it issue any new leases or approve any permits to drill,” Henry said. “If proposed, those actions and the potential impacts would be addressed at the site or project-specific level in subsequent tiered environmental analysis.”

Under the BLM resource management plan, fracking would be approved on a case-by-case basis in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura counties, including some land near Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon national parks and Carrizo Plain National Monument. These locations are under the jurisdiction of BLM’s Bakersfield Field Office. 

“Most of the acreage available within the Bakersfield Field Office jurisdiction for oil and gas development has been available for more than 30 years,” Henry said. 

Epoch Times Photo
A high-pressure gas line crosses over a canal in an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used to extract gas and oil near McKittrick, Calif., on March 23, 2014. (David McNew/Getty Images)

In response to an earlier lawsuit brought against the Trump administration related to the BLM’s leasing policies in five different western states, Henry said the BLM has acted within its authority.

“The BLM’s leasing decisions are lawful and fully compliant with the National Environmental Policy Act, despite the claims made in the lawsuit,” Henry said. “In fact, these leasing decisions were informed by public input, as required by law, which was considered before issuing a final decision. The BLM is helping America meet its growing energy needs while making sure the public lands remain in good shape, before and after leasing activities, consistent with its multiple-use mandate.” 

Earthjustice, which was founded in 1971 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, changed its name in 1997 to reflect its role as a legal advocacy group for environmental justice activist groups. It’s known for opposing many mining and logging initiatives, and supporting “rewilding” efforts on public lands in the western United States.

“In the past two and a half years, Earthjustice has filed more than a hundred lawsuits to defend environmental and health protections,” the organization’s website states. “Rulings on the merits of 39 of the lawsuits have now been decided. Earthjustice has won 33 of the battles—85 percent of the legal challenges decided thus far.”

Epoch Times Photo
Protestors demonstrate against fracking in California outside of the Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building in San Francisco on May 30, 2013. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In November, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on fracking permits pending a review by independent scientists.

“These are necessary steps to strengthen oversight of oil and gas extraction as we phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and focus on clean energy sources,” he said in a release. 

However, public lands fall under federal jurisdiction and are managed by the BLM, not the state. 

The federal government hasn’t issued any oil and gas leases in California since 2012, when a federal judge ruled that the BLM had failed to conduct proper environmental impact assessments. The BLM completed the assessments last year.

Trump’s position in favor of fracking, which he’s held since long before his inauguration, is well known.

“Fracking will lead to American energy independence. With [the] price of natural gas continuing to drop, we can be at a tremendous advantage,” Trump wrote on Twitter in May 2012. 

When the president announced his Energy Independence Policy executive order just months after being sworn into office, he said, “I am going to lift the restrictions on American energy, and allow this wealth to pour into our communities.”

The Western States Petroleum Association, a nonprofit trade organization representing companies that account for the bulk of petroleum exploration in the Western United States, declined to comment to The Epoch Times when asked about the potential use of the land in question for fracking.