fracking facilities

Fracking

Hydraulic frac­tur­ing, or frack­ing, is a method for pro­duc­ing oil and gas in which oil, water, sand and chem­i­cals are inject­ed at high pres­sure into tight rock for­ma­tions to pump out oil and gas. Frack­ing activ­i­ties can have a vari­ety of adverse envi­ron­men­tal impacts asso­ci­at­ed with the use of frack­ing chem­i­cals, the use and dis­pos­al of large quan­ti­ties of water (includ­ing poten­tial trig­ger­ing of earth­quakes from deep­wa­ter water injec­tion prac­tices), the sur­face dis­pos­al of con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed devel­op­ment water, and the like. As the oil and gas industry’s use of frack­ing has dra­mat­i­cal­ly increased over the last decade plus, state attor­neys gen­er­al have insist­ed that frack­ing safe­ty reg­u­la­tions be updat­ed to reflect mod­ern use of the prac­tice and that envi­ron­men­tal reviews of poten­tial frack­ing projects ful­ly account for fracking’s envi­ron­men­tal impacts.

In 2015, the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment (BLM) final­ized new require­ments gov­ern­ing frack­ing activ­i­ties on pub­lic lands, updat­ing woe­ful­ly out-of-date rules from the 1980s that did not reflect mod­ern devel­op­ment tech­nolo­gies. The final rule called on BLM to inspect and val­i­date the safe­ty of frack­ing wells, required oil and gas pro­duc­ers to dis­close chem­i­cals used in the frack­ing process, and estab­lished stan­dards for stor­ing flu­ids before their approved dis­pos­al by BLM.

Pro­tect­ing Hydraulic Frac­tur­ing Stan­dards for Fed­er­al Lands

2017-2021

  • July 2017

    In July 2017, BLM pro­posed a rule to rescind the 2015 frack­ing rule. Six months lat­er, in Decem­ber 2017, BLM final­ized a rule to per­ma­nent­ly rescind the 2015 BLM frack­ing rule and replace it with the reg­u­la­to­ry text that exist­ed pri­or to 2015.

  • Jan­u­ary 2018

    In Jan­u­ary 2018, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra filed suit against BLM in a fed­er­al dis­trict court in Cal­i­for­nia for unlaw­ful­ly rescind­ing the frack­ing rule. The suit seeks an order com­pelling BLM to rein­state the 2015 frack­ing rule because the rule lacks a rea­soned analy­sis and ignores BLM’s statu­to­ry man­dates and the sig­nif­i­cant envi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences of rescind­ing the rule in vio­la­tion of the Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act (APA), the Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act (NEPA), and fed­er­al land man­age­ment statutes.

  • July 2018

    In July 2018, the fed­er­al dis­trict court in Cal­i­for­nia sided with Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra in reject­ing BLM’s request to move the suit to the Dis­trict of Wyoming. In June 2019, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra filed a motion for sum­ma­ry judg­ment in the law­suit chal­leng­ing the rescis­sion of the 2015 BLM frack­ing rule. The motion requests that the fed­er­al dis­trict court vacate the repeal of the 2015 frack­ing rule.

    The motion asserts that BLM vio­lat­ed the APA in repeal­ing the frack­ing rule. The rule did not con­tain a rea­soned analy­sis of repeal­ing the rule in vio­la­tion of the APA as the Bureau failed to explain how pre­ex­ist­ing fed­er­al and state reg­u­la­tions would ensure envi­ron­men­tal­ly respon­si­ble devel­op­ment of fed­er­al oil and gas resources. Addi­tion­al­ly, BLM did not con­sid­er the full ben­e­fits of the 2015 rule or explain how the cost sav­ings asso­ci­at­ed with repeal­ing the frack­ing rule exceed­ed the ben­e­fits of the 2015 rule. BLM also vio­lat­ed NEPA in fail­ing to ana­lyze the envi­ron­men­tal impacts of repeal­ing the 2015 rule before issu­ing the rescis­sion rule. BLM’s 2015 rule found that fail­ing to imple­ment the rule would result in many envi­ron­men­tal impacts, which should have neces­si­tat­ed BLM con­duct­ing an envi­ron­men­tal impact state­ment (EIS) for the rescis­sion. But the Bureau declined to con­duct an EIS for the 2017 rule, claim­ing that any impacts would be insignificant.

  • March 2020

    In March 2020, the fed­er­al dis­trict court in Cal­i­for­nia upheld BLM’s rescis­sion of the 2015 rule. The court held that, while BLM could have pro­vid­ed more detail in explain­ing its ratio­nale for the 2017 roll­back, the Bureau’s deci­sion-mak­ing process cleared the bar of pro­vid­ing a rea­soned analy­sis under the APA in pri­or­i­tiz­ing cost reduc­tion over ben­e­fits gained in con­duct­ing its cost-ben­e­fit analy­sis of jet­ti­son­ing the 2015 rule. As to the NEPA claim, the court found NEPA did not apply as the envi­ron­men­tal sta­tus quo was not altered by the 2017 repeal because the 2015 rule had not yet gone into effect.

  • June 2020

    In June 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra appealed the March 2020 deci­sion to the Ninth Circuit.

  • Octo­ber 2020

    In Octo­ber 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra filed the state’s open­ing brief in the Ninth Cir­cuit lit­i­ga­tion appeal­ing the Cal­i­for­nia fed­er­al dis­trict court’s March 2020 deci­sion. The brief not­ed that the BLM’s 2017 repeal rule vio­lat­ed the APA because the Bureau failed to pro­vide a rea­son­able expla­na­tion for the repeal. In par­tic­u­lar, BLM did not jus­ti­fy its find­ing that fed­er­al, state and trib­al reg­u­la­tions are duplica­tive of the 2015 rule as the rel­e­vant fed­er­al, state and trib­al require­ments fall short of the 2015 rule’s stan­dards. Addi­tion­al­ly, BLM could not pro­vide an expla­na­tion for its con­clu­sion that the cost sav­ings of the 2017 repeal exceed the ben­e­fits of the 2015 rule as the esti­mat­ed cost sav­ings are less than the esti­mat­ed cost of the 2015 rule and the repeal does not make up for the fore­gone ben­e­fits of the 2015 rule.

    Fur­ther, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra point­ed out that the dis­trict court deci­sion should be reversed as BLM failed to con­sid­er obvi­ous alter­na­tives to a com­plete repeal of the 2015 rule, despite a recent Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States rul­ing reaf­firm­ing that a rea­soned analy­sis of a repeal rule must include analy­sis of sig­nif­i­cant pol­i­cy alter­na­tives. Last­ly, the brief assert­ed that the dis­trict court mis­ap­plied Ninth Cir­cuit prece­dent in its NEPA analy­sis as the repeal rule trig­gered NEPA analy­sis by alter­nat­ing the sta­tus quo in elim­i­nat­ing the 2015 rule’s pro­tec­tive requirements.

  • Decem­ber 2020

    In Decem­ber 2020, BLM filed an answer­ing brief, argu­ing that Cal­i­for­nia and the Sier­ra Club failed to estab­lish stand­ing, that it ade­quate­ly explained its deci­sion to rescind the 2015 rule, that plain­tiffs’ argu­ments are insuf­fi­cient, and that the rescis­sion rule is not sub­ject to NEPA. As of June 2021, the appeal remains tem­porar­i­ly closed.

Oppos­ing Open­ing Pub­lic Lands to Fracking

2017-2021

  • April 2019

    In April 2019, BLM released a draft sup­ple­men­tal envi­ron­men­tal impact state­ment (EIS) on BLM’s plan to open up over 1 mil­lion acres of fed­er­al lands to frack­ing and oth­er extrac­tion activ­i­ties in cen­tral California. 

  • June 2019

    In June 2019, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra filed com­ments on the draft sup­ple­men­tal EIS, high­light­ing defi­cien­cies with the doc­u­ment and urg­ing it be with­drawn in favor of a revised and expand­ed draft EIS. The com­ments not­ed that on the basis of BLM’s incor­rect assump­tion that at most four wells would be hydrauli­cal­ly frac­tured each year, the Bureau mis­tak­en­ly con­clud­ed that no sig­nif­i­cant impacts would result to air qual­i­ty, water resources and bio­log­i­cal resources. Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra also point­ed out that the draft sup­ple­men­tal EIS failed to con­sid­er how the plan to increase drilling on fed­er­al lands con­flicts with California’s econ­o­my-wide green­house gas emis­sion reduc­tion targets.

  • Decem­ber 2019

    In Decem­ber 2019, BLM pro­vid­ed notice of avail­abil­i­ty for the final sup­ple­men­tal envi­ron­men­tal impact state­ment (FEIS) and its record of deci­sion. The record of deci­sion opens up more than 1 mil­lion acres of fed­er­al lands in cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia to frack­ing and oth­er oil and gas extrac­tion activ­i­ties. Fol­low­ing pub­li­ca­tion of the notice of avail­abil­i­ty, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra issued a state­ment oppos­ing the record of deci­sion and the FEIS upon which it relies.

  • Jan­u­ary 2020

    In Jan­u­ary 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra filed a law­suit in fed­er­al dis­trict court in Cal­i­for­nia chal­leng­ing the BLM’s FEIS and the record of deci­sion. The suit notes that the FEIS vio­lat­ed NEPA and the APA as it failed to take the required hard look” at many of the sig­nif­i­cant envi­ron­men­tal impacts asso­ci­at­ed with frack­ing and to pro­vide suf­fi­cient evi­dence to sup­port its con­clu­sions. Specif­i­cal­ly, the BLM relied on the faulty assump­tion that at most four wells would be fracked each year and reached the incor­rect con­clu­sion that there would be no sig­nif­i­cant impacts on air qual­i­ty, water resources and bio­log­i­cal resources. Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra is seek­ing to have the FEIS and record of deci­sion set aside and to have the court enjoin the bureau from rely­ing on the FEIS and record of deci­sion to pro­ceed with any frack­ing-relat­ed activ­i­ties in the more than 1 mil­lion acres of fed­er­al land in cen­tral California.

  • August 2020

    In August 2020, BLM released a draft Envi­ron­men­tal Assess­ment (EA) and Find­ing of No Sig­nif­i­cant Impact (FON­SI) eval­u­at­ing the impacts of sell­ing sev­en oil and gas leas­es total­ing more than 4,000 acres in Kern Coun­ty. BLM avoid­ed a detailed envi­ron­men­tal analy­sis of the sev­en leas­es by rely­ing on the flawed pro­gram­mat­ic envi­ron­men­tal review final­ized in Decem­ber 2019 that opened more than one mil­lion acres of pub­lic lands in Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia to oil and gas drilling.

  • Sep­tem­ber 2020

    In Sep­tem­ber 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra and the Cal­i­for­nia Air Resources Board (CARB) sub­mit­ted com­ments crit­i­ciz­ing BLM’s plan. In their com­ments, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra and CARB not­ed that the draft EA and FON­SI must be revised because it sig­nif­i­cant­ly under­es­ti­mat­ed the per­cent of new wells that would be drilled using frack­ing, ignored recent stud­ies and the best avail­able sci­ence in eval­u­at­ing the impacts of frack­ing and did not con­sid­er or attempt to mit­i­gate the impacts of oil and gas devel­op­ment on near­by envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice com­mu­ni­ties. The let­ter also point­ed out that the draft EA and FON­SI failed to ana­lyze its pro­posed action for con­sis­ten­cy with Cal­i­for­nia state stan­dards and poli­cies, includ­ing California’s statu­to­ry tar­gets for reduc­ing green­house gas emis­sions, failed to ade­quate­ly ana­lyze impacts to ground­wa­ter, and failed to ade­quate­ly con­sid­er or mit­i­gate the sig­nif­i­cant cli­mate impacts of open­ing up these pub­lic lands to new oil and gas leas­ing. Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra and CARB strong­ly urged BLM to with­draw the draft EA and FON­SI and pre­pare a new analy­sis that ade­quate­ly address­es these deficiencies.

  • Novem­ber 2020

    In Novem­ber 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra, Gov­er­nor Gavin New­som, CARB, and the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) filed a protest chal­leng­ing BLM’s pro­posed lease sale. In the protest, the coali­tion empha­sized — as they did in their Sep­tem­ber com­ment let­ter — that BLM’s draft EA is defi­cient and must be revised because it fails to ful­ly ana­lyze the sig­nif­i­cant effects of oil and gas leas­ing and relies on the flawed pro­gram­mat­ic envi­ron­men­tal review.