The Monterey County Herald is reporting that a moratorium on new federal oil and gas leases in San Benito and Monterey counties will remain in place for another two years during a federal review of the environmental impacts of oil production, including hydraulic fracturing, that will take until October 2016 to complete. The information came from the Bureau of Land Management in court papers filed in an ongoing federal lawsuit.
The Herald said that the decision impacts the Hollister Field Office, which issues leases in Fresno, Kings, Monterey and San Benito counties "but does not impact ongoing operations, or operations on private land". Since 2003, the BLM's Hollister field office has sold thousands of acres of oil and gas leases, according to the story.The BLM is conducting an exhaustive environmental review after losing a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club and the San Francisco-based Center for Biological Diversity over the sale of a handful of leases in 2011, according to the Herald.
The suit, according to the Herald's story, was brought against the backdrop of an expansion of fracking, which uses a mixture of water and chemicals, blasted deep into wells, to produce previously unattainable oil. The technique has helped push the U.S. past Saudi Arabia in global oil production, and California is one of the nation's biggest oil producers.
The Herald's story said that environmental groups argued fracking poses new threats to groundwater and the environment that demand close scrutiny, and said on Oct. 16 that they believed new federal leases in California should remain on hiatus. In April 2013, a U.S. District judge sided with the environmental groups, which prompted an independent review of fracking published by the California Council on Science and Technology. Published in August, the review found California fracking operations use a fraction of the water of operations elsewhere, between 450- and 1,200-acre-feet a year statewide. However, the report said even that relatively small amount could contribute to local water constraints, according to the Herald.
The report mentioned in the Herald story also found no reported instances of groundwater contamination from fracking, and almost no impact on seismic activity. However, it also cautioned the state's fracking data is incomplete, the story said.
For the complete story by Jason Hoppin of the Monterey County Herald, click here.