Federal Moratorium Shuts Down New Oil and Gas Drilling in Central California

By Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
August 2, 2022 Updated: August 3, 2022

California has reached a settlement with the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to shut down new oil and gas drilling on more than 1 million acres of public land in Central California.

The settlement, announced Aug. 1 by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta, requires the federal agency to withdraw the land from new drilling, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), until the federal land agency conducts more environmental impact studies.

“Fracking is dangerous for our communities, damaging to our environment, and out of step with California’s climate goals,” Bonta said in a release.

The state filed a lawsuit in January 2020 claiming the BLM’s initial environmental review of the plan to allow new drilling failed to fully evaluate the “significant and adverse impacts” on the environment in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura counties, according to the release.

In 2019, then-President Donald Trump’s administration opened up the oil-rich Central California coastal region for oil and gas development, ending a five-year moratorium on leases in the state.

The BLM has not held a lease sale in California since 2013 after a judge ruled that the federal agency illegally issued leases without analyzing the environmental impact of fracking.

Environmental groups applauded this week’s settlement announcement.

“These agreements require federal officials to disclose the harm that fracking does to the air, water and communities of Central California,” Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “For decades this region’s people and wildlife have been paying the price of filthy fossil fuel extraction. That has to end, and we’ll do everything possible to make sure these pauses become permanent bans.”

Nathan Matthews, a Sierra Club senior attorney, said the settlement demonstrated the hard work of activists.

“Today’s win is a testament to the grassroots activism of Central Valley communities, who have fought oil and gas leasing in their backyards and supported people, public health, wildlife and climate,” Matthews said.

Reuters contributed to this report.