In what is expected to prompt another tussle between the state and federal government, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last week announced plans to open 1.2 million acres in California for oil and gas leasing.

BLM said the completion of an environmental review showed there “are no adverse environmental impacts due to hydraulic fracturing that cannot be alleviated.” However, California oil and gas industry leaders believe that fracturing is not viable in the region, as the geology in the central San Joaquin Valley targeted by BLM is not suitable.

“In California, hydraulic fracturing occurs almost exclusively in mature oilfields in remote parts of western Kern County -- nowhere near these federal lands and that’s unlikely to change,” said CEO Rock Zierman of the California Independent Producers Association (CIPA). He said that is why BLM found no adverse impacts to the federal lands in question.

California Attorney General Xaiver Becerra called BLM’s environmental study deficient. “That’s not how we do things in California,” he said. “We’re prepared to do whatever we must to protect the health and safety of our people.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom also made it clear that the BLM is “at odds” with California and said he intends to keep battling the Trump administration.

"The president’s new oil drilling plan is completely at odds with our state's priority to ensure the protection of our natural resources and the health and safety of our residents,” Newsom said. “California will continue to fight the Trump administration’s attacks on California's environment, and this new assault on our natural resources is no exception.”

Since 2015, California has had a set of rules covering fracturing, broader well stimulation methods and groundwater protections. Well stimulation projects are permitted by the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) and reviewed by state water control regulators to determine if monitoring is required. 

DOGGR spokesperson Don Drysdale said the rules on fracturing and other well stimulation practices apply to operations on federal lands in California, and the 266 pending oil and gas permit applications would be independently reviewed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

This third-party involvement is to continue while the revised and DOGGR’s permitting process is independently evaluated by another state agency.

While Newsom continues to speak out against using highly pressured well stimulation techniques, BLM is promoting the ability to safely apply them for established economic and energy advantages.

Some of California’s producers and industry leaders have said the state’s more stringent approach to oil and gas regulation has not impacted their operations, even though DOGGR's latest rules would place a moratorium on the use of high-pressure cyclic steam and require scientific reviews in the permitting process for well stimulation.

Western States Petroleum Association head Catherine Reheis-Boyd called BLM's actions "thoughtful and deliberate" in promoting the use of fracking as a proven technology that has been used safely for more than 60 years.

“Every barrel of oil we produce in California helps us affordably meet the tremendous energy demand organically without increasing costly foreign oil imports that are not subject to the same strict health, environmental and labor standards,” she said.

Restricting California’s already declining oil and gas production will only hurt the state’s economy, Zierman said. Anti-oil proponents have mischaracterized the BLM’s intention of resuming leasing on federal lands as “an expansion” of unconventional drilling.

Although some of the state’s geological formations may not be suitable for unconventional techniques, “the federal government finalized an extensive environmental review as part of an Obama administration lawsuit settlement with anti-oil activists,” she said.