California sues to block Trump administration fracking plans

California increased its efforts Friday to keep the federal government from allowing oil and gas drilling on more than 1 million acres of public land, suing to block the Trump administration from issuing new permits in the central part of the state.

The lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management follows a new state law also intended to counter Trump administration plans to increase oil and gas production on protected public land.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued on behalf of his office and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration, saying the permits would allow the controversial extraction method called hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Becerra, a Democrat, called that decision “misguided and downright dangerous.”

Newsom in October signed a law barring any California leasing authority from allowing pipelines or other oil and gas infrastructure to be built on state property. The law is intended to make it difficult for drilling to occur because federally protected areas are adjacent to state-owned land. In November the Democratic governor stopped approval of hundreds of state fracking permits until independent scientists can review them.

The latest lawsuit is California’s 67th against the Trump administration, about half involving the environment.

The suit filed in federal court in Los Angeles contends that the government’s environmental review did not adequately evaluate harmful effects on communities and the environment in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura counties, and requests that the court set aside the decision.

“The risks to both people and the environment associated with fracking are simply too high to ignore,” Becerra said. But the federal government “shortchanged the science when it came to their analysis. ... What they’ve done does not amount to a hard look at the evidence.”

Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Serena Baker said its analysis of fracking “incorporated the best available information” including a 2015 state environmental impact report. Any proposed permits would receive their own environmental analysis, she said.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said the federal bureau’s scientific studies and work “span two presidential administrations and follow federal law.”

The industry is focused on “working and innovating to provide reliable, safe and affordable fuels and energy to our state, as every barrel produced in California is used in our state,” she said. “That’s one less barrel coming from foreign sources that don’t share our values, environmental standards and human rights.”

In fracking, producers inject water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into tight rock formations to extract oil and gas. Becerra said the chemicals can pollute nearby groundwater and release toxins into the air when it reaches the surface.

The lawsuit says the government failed to properly consider the potential water and air pollution, its affect on endangered species, or the possibility that the process could cause minor earthquakes or the land to subside.

Becerra said the government inaccurately predicted that just four wells each year would use fracking. He argued that it also interferes with California’s goal of reducing climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, seven of the eight counties fail air quality standards for particulate matter, ozone, or both.

Clare Lakewood, legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said she was encouraged by the state’s efforts to block the administration’s plan to “unleash a frenzy of fracking and drilling on our beautiful public lands.”

The center and other conservation groups sued Tuesday to challenge this same plan. The groups also sued in October to block federal plans to allow fracking on an additional 725,500 acres in 11 counties in California’s Central Coast and San Francisco Bay areas.