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California Judge Rules that BLM Violates Environmental Law

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A federal magistrate in California ruled that federal authorities violated an environmental law when the U.S. Bureau Land of Management sold oil and gas leases in California without studying the possible risks of hydraulic fracturing. The ruling, announced Sunday, will prolong fracking on three sites leased by the U.S. Bureau Land of Management in 2011.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal in San Jose, California, said BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act by relying on outdated reviews when the organization auctioned the rights to drill for oil and gas on public lands in Fresno and Monterey Counties.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, who sued the bureau, had asked the judge to invalidate the leases but Grewal declined.  The judge did not comment on whether the leases would be invalidated but said he would decide their fate after the parties meet next week. He ordered both sides to meet and submit a remedy to him by April 15. Grewal also granted the government’s request to throw out claims that the leases violated the Mineral Leasing Act, reported Bloomberg.

“BLM’s dismissal of any development scenario involving fracking as ‘outside of its jurisdiction’ simply did not provide the ‘hard look’ at the issue that NEPA requires,” Grewal said in the released ruling.

This marks the first federal court opinion to explicitly recognize the significant risks and controversies created by the spread of fracking across the U.S., said attorneys for the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued to invalidate the leases in 2011, reported Bloomberg.

“This is an important decision that recognizes the significant risks that fracking poses to California’s land, air and water,” Brendan Cummings, senior counsel for the group, said in an email to Bloomberg. “In an era of dangerous climate change, the federal government should not be leasing public land for extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction.” 

In September 2011, the Bureau of Land Management auctioned three oil and gas lease parcels in Fresno and Monterey counties for a total of $257,051. The affected companies that won the leases are Vintage Production California LLC, Lone Tree Energy & Associates and Neil Ormond of Clovis, according to a September 2011 press release from BLM.

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