Legal Agreement Blocks Oil Drilling on 725,000 Acres of California Central Coast

MARINA, calif.— A federal judge approved an agreement today to suspend new oil and gas leasing across more than 725,000 acres of public lands 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 sell off our precious public lands to be fracked for the fossil fuels driving 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’ll keep insisting that he keeps 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.

Lease sales will not be held while the 2019 plan is under review and the environmental analysis is redone. The BLM is also committed to considering new alternatives and working with counties that have passed ordinances banning fracking and other drilling techniques.

“This agreement affirms that the federal government must respect the wishes of local communities when it comes to oil and gas leases, including our laws prohibiting oil and gas development within Santa Cruz County,” said Ryan Coonerty, a Santa Cruz County supervisor. “This is a win for the environment and the rights of our residents to be effective stewards of the county’s natural resources.”

“Protecting our public lands is key for our climate future,” said Nathan Matthews, a senior attorney at the Sierra Club. “In order to achieve our essential and ambitious goal to protect 30% of all land and water in the US by 2030 we cannot continue to open up our public lands for oil and gas development while putting communities in harm’s way. The Sierra Club will continue to work alongside our partners to protect our public lands from drilling and fracking and hold elected officials accountable to their climate priorities in California and beyond.”

Today’s agreement follows a previous successful lawsuit brought by the Center and the Sierra Club in 2011. In that case a judge ruled that the BLM violated the law when it was auctioned off about 2,500 acres of land in Monterey and Fresno Counties without the risks of fracking .

When the Trump administration finalized a new amendment to the management plan in 2019 purporting to address the risks of fracking, the Center and Sierra Club filed suits and were later joined by Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties.

The plan opened 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 have taken action to curb drilling.

In 2016 Monterey County voters passed Measure Z, which bans fracking and land uses 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 have banned fracking and Santa Cruz County has banned all oil and gas development.

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