Sale of Oil Leases on California Public Lands on Hold

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By Carolyn Whetzel

The federal government is barred from auctioning off new drilling rights on public lands in California for at least another year under a settlement reached with environmental groups, one of the groups told Bloomberg BNA.

The agreement details the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s obligations to comply with a 2016 court order requiring a more thorough analysis of potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing and other drilling activities before it opens the public lands for oil and gas development.

The settlement, approved by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California May 3, resolves a lawsuit the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padre ForestWatch filed in 2015 Los Padres ForestWatch v. U.S. Bureau of Land Management , C.D. Cal., No. 2:15-cv-04378 MWF/JEM, 5/3/17 .

“Our hope is that this settlement puts the final nail in the coffin for BLM’s illegal practicing of rubber-stamping fracking in California without environmental review,” Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie, who represented the groups, said in a prepared statement May 4.

No New Leases Since 2013

The settlement continues a moratorium on leasing public lands in California to the oil industry that began in 2013 after another court found the BLM had issued leases in Monterey County without adequately considering the potential harms of fracking, Brendan Cummings, the Center for Biological Diversity’s conservation director, told Bloomberg BNA May 4. The environmental group is a plaintiff in both cases.

In the current case, the Center for Biological Diversity challenged the adequacy of the BLM’s Bakersfield Resource Management Plan, which set the stage for selling oil leases for more than 1 million acres of mineral estate in the state’s Central Valley, the southern Sierra Nevada and Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties.

“The settlement addresses issues the court order left undecided,” Cummings said.

Instead of addressing those issues through legal briefings, both parties decided to settle the case, he said.

New Impact Analysis

Under the current settlement, the BLM must rework the resource management plan and prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement that corrects the National Environmental Policy Act violations. The new assessment must consider available information on fracking’s potential impacts on groundwater quality and the public health and environmental concerns related to chemicals used in well stimulation activities.

The BLM agreed not to hold any oil and gas lease sales within the Bakersfield Resource Management Plan area until it issues a new record of decision.

To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at

For More Information

A copy of the settlement agreement is available at:

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