Less than a month after the United States District Court for the Northern District of California’s decision that BLM failed to fully evaluate the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing operations in granting oil and gas leases (see April 11, 2013, post), the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club have initiated a second lawsuit challenging BLM’s award of oil and gas leases for a much larger area of federal lands in California. The first suit challenged BLM’s issuance of oil and gas leases for approximately 2,700 acres of land. The second suit calls into question federal leases for nearly 18,000 acres of land. Both sets of leases involve California’s Monterey Shale Formation.

In the first suit, the court held that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by unreasonably relying on what the court found was an outdated resource management plan and environmental impact statement that lead to the assumption that only one exploratory well would be drilled on the approximately 2,700 acres of leased land. The court concluded that advances in fracking technology have since significantly increased the number of wells that were likely to be drilled in the area and that BLM should have re-evaluated the potential impact of fracking resulting from issuing oil and gas leases for those lands.

The environmental groups argue in the second suit that BLM again failed to consider current information regarding the potential impacts of fracking. In this latest suit, BLM assumed only one well would be drilled on the nearly 18,000 acres of leased lands.  Give the larger area at issue in the second suit, it is likely that the court will again side with the plaintiffs and find that BLM’s NEPA analysis failed to fully consider the potential impact of fracking.

Co-authored by Michael N. Mills and Robin B. Seifried.