Marina, California.– A federal judge today approved an agreement to suspend new oil and gas leasing on more than 725,000 acres of public land in California’s Central Coast and the Bay Area. The legal agreement was reached by conservation groups, Monterey County, Santa Cruz County and the US Bureau of Land Management.
“Our federal government shouldn’t be selling off our precious public lands to be mined for the fossil fuels that drive global warming, so this agreement is a huge relief,” said Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “President Biden promised to stop sacrificing public lands for dangerous oil extraction, and we will continue to push for him to keep that promise.”
The agreement requires the BLM to reconsider its 2019 plan to open 725,500 acres of public lands and mineral estates across 11 Central Coast and Bay Area counties to new oil and gas drilling and fracking methods.
Lease sales will not be held while the 2019 plan is reviewed and the environmental analysis is redone. The BLM has also committed to considering new alternatives and working with counties that have passed ordinances banning fracking and other drilling techniques.
“This agreement confirms that the federal government must respect the wishes of local communities when it comes to oil and gas leases, including our laws that prohibit oil and gas development within Santa Cruz County,” said Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty , said. “This is a victory for the environment and the rights of our residents to be effective stewards of the nation’s natural resources.”
“Protecting our public lands is key to our climate future,” said Nathan Matthews, a senior attorney with the Sierra Club. “To achieve our essential and ambitious goal of protecting 30% of all land and water in the US by 2030, we cannot continue to open our public lands to oil and gas development while putting communities at risk. The Sierra Club will continue to work with our partners to protect our public lands from drilling and fracking and hold elected officials accountable for their climate priorities in California and beyond.”
Today’s agreement follows a previous successful lawsuit filed by the Center and the Sierra Club in 2011. In that case, a judge ruled that the BLM violated the law when it auctioned off about 2,500 acres of land in Monterey and Fresno Counties without considering the risks of fracking.
When the Trump administration finalized a new amendment to the management plan in 2019 that purported to address the risks of fracking, the Center and Sierra Club filed suit and were later joined by Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties.
The plan opened up popular areas for leasing, including Mount Diablo State Park, Henry W. Coe State Park and Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. It also allowed development on hundreds of thousands of acres of federal public land within counties that had acted to curb drilling.
In 2016, voters in Monterey County passed Measure Z, which bans fracking and land use to support new oil and gas wells. The California Supreme Court recently agreed to review a lower court decision that sided with oil companies and other industry-friendly plaintiffs to prevent certain aspects of Measure Z from taking effect. San Benito and Alameda Counties banned fracking and Santa Cruz County banned all oil and gas development.