Federal Judge Rules That Government Can’t Just Ignore Environmental Concerns

Anti-fracking advocates in California are marking a big victory as a judge has ruled that no, you can’t just go drilling around willy-nilly without sufficient environmental impact reports. The ruling, made in response to a suit from environmental organizations, doesn’t cancel the oil leases originally issued for the land, but it does mandate that the groups reach a resolution with the government, which illegally granted the leases in the first place. That provides some wiggle-room for fighting fracking in the Monterey Shale, and it sent a clear message to the Obama Administration: fracking is not popular in the United States.

The story started in 2011, when the Bureau of Land Management in Monterey County issued potentially lucrative oil and gas leases without sufficient environmental analysis to determine the possible effects of fracking. A total of 2,500 acres in one of California’s most beautiful regions was slated for oil and gas development to access an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil. Environmental groups were deeply concerned about the potential risks to such development, especially given that it bordered a major watershed.

It was a surprise to see such proposals in California, a state where anti-oil and gas production and organizing have resulted in environmental clampdowns and some of the toughest laws on alternative energy production and emissions standards in the country. The state is famous for its level of environmental activity and focus on sustainable use of natural resources, and the case was a grim reminder that California’s reputation doesn’t spread throughout the entire state.

In the suit, activists argued that the BLM had not considered the risks before granting the leases, and Judge Paul Grewal agreed: “[the leases] 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.” Granting the leases as-is was a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, which governs such activities.

His decision not to cancel the leases in the face of his findings was a blow for environmental advocates, but they’re still rallying. The decision puts any development on hold and provides breathing room for advocates to continue fighting. Critically, it also sends a message to the government as well as the BLM that it’s not allowed to dodge requirements for careful environmental analysis before leasing land for development, putting the Obama Administration on notice that when it comes to fracking, it had better tread carefully with leases on public lands.

The judge may not have said outright that fracking is dangerous, but he clearly referenced the concerns about the environmental hazards associated with fracking specifically in addition to oil and gas development in general in his ruling. That’s significant, because the government still seems caught in a web of denial when it comes to facing the facts about the dangers of fracking.

Anti-fracking advocates across the nation and the world are mustering a growing collection of evidence against the safety and reliability of fracking and using it to great effect in protests, lawsuits and other actions intended to halt or prevent proposed oil and gas developments in oil shale country. This case will join the body of work done by activists to fight fracking and encourage the government to turn to other means to support its energy needs — and it’s just possible that the ultimate resolution in this particular story will be a cancellation or a radical scaleback of the contested leases in response to more careful environmental review.

Related articles:

Fracking: Bad for the Environment, the Community, and Workers

Ohio Fracking Wastewater Test Reveals Toxic Mess

New Film Tackles Fracking Politics

Photo credit: CREDO.fracking


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago

Good news!

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia5 years ago

I am glad someone had enough stance!

Mary B.
Mary B5 years ago

If it's possible to use 'The ecsecutive' order thing, I would like to see President Obama put a moritorium on all private company use of our public lands for the purpose of taking resources for their own profit.That whole policy smells criminal to me. It's PUBLIC land held in trust by our government.If anybody should gain profit from it, it should be the American people, and the money should go into the Social Safety net. This needs to include the logging of our old growth forests, minning and drilling for oil and gas and definately for fracking. These public lands are habitat for the last of the wild creatures and are also valuable eco systems the Earth needs to keep in ballance. This rip off has been going on since at least the 80's and this must stop now!

Lyn V.
Lyn V5 years ago

Yay and thank you

Elsie O.
Elsie A. O5 years ago

'bout time.

Ben L.
Ben L5 years ago

Jesss, finely an judge with common sense. :-)

Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

Too much has been 'rubber-stamped' and the price paid later.

Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider5 years ago

Thank you Judge Grewal

Grant Feltis
Grant Feltis5 years ago

Good news.