Bureau of Land Management releases public comments on plan to use controversial mining technique in Tulare County and five other counties
BAKERSFIELD – A controversial method of extracting natural gas from rocks deep beneath the surface has hundreds of central California residents concerned.
Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Bakersfield Field Office released the scoping report for the supplemental environmental impact statement (EIS) on hydraulic fracturing on land in six counties across the Central Valley and Central Coast.
Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, is a technique used to extract natural gas from shale rock. Massive drills bore out holes thousands of feet beneath the surface. Hydraulic fluid, containing small amounts of chemical additives such as acid, is then pumped into the holes until the pressure causes the rock to crack, releasing the natural gas which flows up to the surface.
The focus of a scoping report is to identify fracking’s environmental effects, methods of assessment and mitigation measures that could be included in a supplemental environmental analysis for the Bakersfield Field Office’s Resource Management Plan. The 2014 plan determined areas available for oil and gas development on approximately 400,000 acres of BLM-administered public land and 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate on tribal privately held lands in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.
The BLM received approximately 8,400 faxes, letters and emails during the 30-day public scoping period in August, but only included a handful from Tulare County. Most of the comments from residents raised concerns of water quality.
A 2014 report by the Associated Press linked fracking to more than 100 water well contamination cases in Pennsylvania. A 2016 report commissioned by Congress and published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), found scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances. The report, based upon review of over 1,200 cited scientific sources, cited drinking water impacts near fracking wells ranging from temporary changes in water quality, to contamination that made private drinking water wells unusable. This is primarily due to hydraulic fluids injected into the ground that make their way into groundwater.
This is particularly concerning for Tulare County, which is one of the most overdrafted groundwater basins in the state and has a high concentration of disadvantaged communities already struggling with water supply and quality issues.
The scoping report categorizes substantive comments into issues to be analyzed, including air and atmospheric values, water quality and quantity, seismicity, special status species, mineral resources and socioeconomics. The scoping report is available online at tinyurl.com/y8x4f5cf. A draft environmental analysis is expected to be available for public review in spring 2019.
This environmental analysis is being conducted as part of a U.S. District Court Order issued May 2017, that requires the BLM to conduct supplemental analysis on the potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing on public land and federal mineral estate within the Bakersfield planning area. The supplemental EIS will pertain only to new oil and gas leases and will not open additional public lands or federal mineral estate to oil and gas leasing within the boundaries of the Bakersfield Field Office.
The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In fiscal year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.