On September 6, 2016, a federal Judge issued an Order finding that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) failed to take a “hard look,” as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), at the potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing in issuing a new Resource Management Plan (“RMP”) for the Bakersfield Field Office.  The Order directed the BLM to conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement (“EIS”) focusing on the potential impacts of fracking.   While the decision will likely affect future leasing under the new RMP, it is not a moratorium on fracking.

The RMP is a land use plan for federal public land, issued by the Bakersfield BLM Field Office, which manages public land in the counties of Ventura, Tulare, Western Kern and others.  When drafting an RMP, NEPA requires that a federal agency issue an environmental assessment or EIS prior to publication of the Record of Decision for the RMP.  Here the BLM prepared an EIS, which was challenged by the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch.

The court found that the EIS was defective in that it analyzed the environmental impacts of oil and gas development generally, but did not specifically study the potential impacts of fracking.

Out of the 1,073 page- EIS, there were only “three isolated . . . references to fracking.”  Order, at 19.

The court found that these brief references to fracking fell well short of a reasonably thorough discussion, particularly since the RMP anticipates that 25% of new wells will be fracked.  The EIS did not discuss the “unique” environmental concerns of fracking, such as groundwater contamination and seismic activity.  Id. at 20.  Further, the court held that the BLM cannot postpone environmental review of fracking because it is such an activity that will “foreseeably arise” from the RMP.  Id. at 22 (citations omitted).