WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Friday announced it would open up over 720,000 acres of federal land in California for oil and gas development, ending a five-year moratorium on leases in the state.
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management approved a resource management plan for the oil-rich Central California coastal region, which would issue 14 previously litigated leases in Monterey and San Benito counties, which were suspended amid a legal challenge by two conservation groups six years ago, and open up new acres for leasing.
The BLM has not held a lease sale in California since 2013, when a judge ruled that the agency illegally issued leases without analyzing the environmental impact of drilling called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
One of the groups that had challenged the leases said it would fight the plan, which is in line with other recent moves by President Donald Trump’s administration to roll back environmental protections and efforts to fight climate change.
Overall, BLM will make 680,000 acres of federal mineral estate available for leasing with controlled surface use stipulations and another roughly 42,000 acres available with no surface occupancy requirements.
The BLM said in a press release that the decision enables “environmentally responsible energy development while creating jobs and providing economic opportunities for local communities” but environmental groups warned that allowing fracking in the area will endanger Californians and wildlife.
“Turning over these spectacular wild places to dirty drilling and fracking will sicken Californians, harm endangered species and fuel climate chaos. We’ll fight tooth and nail to make sure it doesn’t happen,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that had sued the BLM in 2013.
Counties in the area, such as Monterey and Santa Cruz, included in the approved BLM plan, have passed local ordinances to ban new oil and gas wells.
The BLM estimates the oil and gas industry on private and public lands directly supports approximately 3,000 jobs and $620 million in tax revenue in the central California coast area.
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici