September 26, 2020 - BAKERSFIELD, Calif.— More than 85 conservation, environmental justice, public health and community groups submitted a letter to the Bureau of Land Management on Friday opposing the Bureau’s first oil and gas lease sale of federal public lands in California in eight years.
Today’s letter is accompanied by thousands of written comments from Californians condemning the Bureau’s flawed environmental review process ahead of the proposed sale of over 4,000 acres for oil and gas development in Kern County.
“Selling off our beautiful public lands to oil and gas companies for drilling and fracking is monstrous,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “As Californians die in massive, climate-fueled fires, it’s never been clearer that fossil fuels need to stay in the ground where they belong.”
Citing threats to climate, air quality, wild places and public health, as well as the Bureau’s use of a legally deficient environmental assessment, the groups urged the agency to halt any new leases for oil and gas development on California’s public lands.
“The BLM must stop this reckless fire sale of our public land,” said Nayamin Martinez, executive director at the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “This sale would increase the air and water pollution that already disproportionately harms communities of color in Kern County. We need a just transition away from fossil fuels that protects workers, frontline communities and the environment.”
The lease sale could open public land to controversial drilling techniques including fracking.
“This lease sale will compound the pollution in the Central Valley, already home to the worst air quality in the U.S. thanks to rampant oil and gas drilling,” said Rosanna Esparza, a Kern County resident, activist and gerontologist. “Putting more wells where people already face greater rates of respiratory illness and heart disease is unthinkably cruel. And it’s even worse now with COVID-19 battering our communities, because we know that higher rates of pollution make people more likely to die from the virus.”
Ongoing legal action has challenged the administration’s efforts to increase drilling and fracking in California.
In December 2019 the administration made a final decision to allow oil drilling and fracking across more than 1 million acres of federal public land in eight counties including Kern. Conservation groups filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to challenge that decision, citing the Bureau’s failure to adequately assess fracking’s environmental, health and safety harms. The proposed lease sale relies on the environmental review that these conservation groups have challenged in court.
“It’s outrageous for the BLM to force this reckless drilling plan on Californians after more than 90,000 of us expressed overwhelming opposition last year,” said Jenny Binstock, a senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club. “We are deeply concerned that this lease sale will be the first of many more to come, putting our public health and our climate at even greater risk.”
Some of the parcels for sale are located within the Lokern-Buena Vista Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Other parcels are close to the boundaries of the Carrizo Plain National Monument and Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge.
“Opening California public lands to new oil drilling and fracking threatens surrounding communities, precious water supplies, our treasured landscapes like the Carrizo Plain National Monument, and threatened and endangered animals like the San Joaquin kit fox and the California condor, who depend on protected land for survival,” said Rebecca August, director of advocacy with Los Padres ForestWatch. “Sacrificing water, wild lands and wildlife to push more greenhouse gases in the air is simply unacceptable.”
The comment period for the proposed lease sale closed on Sept. 25.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Central California Environmental Justice Network has been promoting environmental justice in the San Joaquin Valley since 2000. Our mission is to preserve our natural resources by seeking to minimize or eliminate environmental degradation in the San Joaquin Valley. CCEJN focuses on advancing community resilience in disadvantaged communities by increasing the level of recognition of adverse health effects caused by pollution and serving as a hub for environmental activism in the Central Valley.
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action.
Los Padres ForestWatch is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife, wilderness landscapes, watersheds, and outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the Los Padres National Forest and the adjacent Carrizo Plain National Monument.
Source: Center for Biological Diversity