Climate Activists Protest Trump’s California Public Lands Fracking Plan

By: Steve Horn | May 23, 2019

Top Image: San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon speaks at May 22 rally in before hearing at Embassy Suites by Hilton in San Luis Obispo; Photo Credit: Jason Pfeifle, Center for Biological Diversity

Hundreds of climate activists are protesting a Trump Administration proposal to do hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas on over 1.2 million acres of federal public lands in the Central Valley portion of California.

Hearings for the proposal pushed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began on May 21 and environmental justice groups have spent the past few days packing hearing rooms, voicing criticism of the proposal that would bring the long-contested, horizontal drilling technique into a state which has stated its intentions to transition away from fossil fuels to meet its climate goals.

We are Live in Santa Barbara for the Bureau of Land Management's third and final public hearing regarding their plans to reopen more than 1 million acres of public lands to new fracking and oil drilling in California. #NoNewLeases #KeepItInTheGroundCenter for Biological Diversity Sierra Club Los Padres ForestWatch 350 Santa Barbara Food & Water Watch – California For a Fossil Fuel Free California Californians Against Fracking

Posted by Live From The Frontlines on Thursday, May 23, 2019

“We are in a climate crisis and we are out of time,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, at a pre-hearing rally on May 21. “We simply cannot drill any more oil and gas wells if we want to avoid the worst climate catastrophes. Yet, unfortunately here we are.”

At the same rally, Bryan Osorio, a member of the Delano City Council, spoke to the environmental impacts drilling could have on the Central Valley community, one of the areas of with the most poverty in the state.

“What I want us to consider is that when we are talking about oil and gas drilling, we are talking about the health impacts, especially in the Central Valley,” Osorio said. “In Kern County, we have very, very, very man health disparities. So what I say is that we should stop oil and gas drilling on public lands and to some extent, we should stop it period.”

The BLM’s hearings focus on the Bakersfield Field Office Hydraulic Fracturing Environmental Impact Statement published in April. That environmental report came out as a result of a 2016 federal court ruling issued in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, which determined that BLM under President Barack Obama had “failed to take a ‘hard look’ at the environmental impact” of fracking in the area, and thus, should re-analyze the impacts of the drilling technique.

Much of the land up for proposed drilling under the plan sits in close proximity to national park and forest land, including the Yosemite National Park, Cesar Chavez National Monument, Sierra National Forest, Sequoia National Park and National Forest, the Kern National Wildlife Refuge and others. The National Parks Conservation Association, a non-profit group which advocates on behalf of preservation of federal public lands, has called attention to the vulnerability of national parks if drilling expanded.

“The risks posed to our national parks by further oil and gas development, particularly these iconic treasures that helped to inspire the modern-day conservation movement, is saddening to say the least,” said Mark Rose, a Field Representative for the group, in a press release.

One group in favor of the proposal is California’s oil and gas industry. Its main lobbying group, the Western States Petroleum Association, argues that the state faces a supply shortage driven by consumer demand and drilling on federal public lands in the state is a solution to that shortage.

“We use 48 million gallons of gasoline a day in California. We need to have a reality-based conversation,” Bob Poole, the director of production for state and coastal issues for the Western States Petroleum Association, told the publication Capitol Weekly. “California uses 2 million barrels of oil a day; only 30 percent of it is produced in California. The rest–70 percent–has to be imported.”

Protests against Trump-supported drilling have worked in the past. The Trump Administration recently backed down on a U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management proposal to do offshore drilling in the Pacific Ocean in federal waters.

However, the Trump Administration also recently approved fracking on an additional 800,000 acres of land located closer to Pacific Ocean in central California. That plan has faced criticism from, among others, presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

“This administration’s misguided plan to expand oil and gas drilling along California’s Central Coast is a direct threat to the health of the state’s environment and our fight against climate change,” Harris told the Associated Press. “We should be protecting our public lands and boosting the outdoor economy.”

The public comment period on the BLM’s draft environmental analysis ends on June 10 and the agency has said it expects to publish its final version of the environmental impact statement, after reading through and analyzing the new round of comments, in the fall.

The Center for Biological Diversity has created a petition to gather written public comments in opposition to the drilling plan and will continue rallying and testifying. Because the BLM does not transcribe or record oral comments given at hearings, the Center for Biological Diversity has also teamed up with other groups to film the hearings, transcribe and then submit all of the presentations given in writing at the three hearings. The organization, which has helped organize the rallies at the hearings in Bakersfield, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, told The Real News it will “use all the tools available” to halt what they have described as a “dangerous giveaway.”

“California communities have suffered enough for the short-term profits of the oil and gas industry,” said Clare Lakewood, an attorney for The Center for Biological Diversity. “Trump’s dirty drilling plan would multiply the fossil-fuel pollution that’s making Californians sick and overheating the planet. It’s an attack on our state’s health and future.”

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Steve Horn

Steve Horn is a San Diego, CA-based climate reporter and producer for The Real News Network. He has worked as a staff investigative reporter for the publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News and works as the Escondido reporter for The Coast News Group’s Inland Edition in northern San Diego County. He worked from 2011-2018 as an investigative reporter for the…