The San Francisco-based Center for Biological Diversity has issued a 60-day notice of intent to file a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for allegedly failing to keep wildlife protected from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of oil and gas wells on federal lands it manages in the Monterey Shale in central California.

Under the notice process, the environmental center has 60 days to file its lawsuit, according to officials at the California BLM office in Sacramento. A call to the environmental organization seeking more details on the upcoming filing was not returned by press time.

The notice came as a formal filing under the Endangered Species Act in which the environmental center lawyers are attempting to show that “the arrival of fracking in California” threatens to unleash a new drilling boom that “would severely damage” much of the last remaining habitat for some of California’s most endangered species, including the California condors and San Joaquin kit foxes.

“Yet the BLM continues to issue oil and gas leases and drilling permits, all the while relying on outdated wildlife analyses that don’t factor in the dangers of new technology, which involves blasting millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and dangerous chemicals deep into the earth,” said the center.

The center’s public lands director, Brendan Cummings, said an anticipated “fracking boom” could push the endangered species “over the edge.”

Doran Sanchez, a deputy state director with BLM’s California office, said the agency is aware of the lawsuit notice but not of any specific instances of fracking in the Monterey Shale impacting wildlife. Sanchez also told NGI’s Shale Daily he was not aware of this issue arising in other states where shale development and fracking are present. To date, the use of fracking in California has been “minimal,” although it has been around for decades, Sanchez said.

“Recent advancements in fracking techniques are driving a growing interest in the Monterey Shale,” said the environmental group, which called the Monterey “a geologic formation holding an estimated 14 billion barrels of oil, or 40% of the U.S. shale oil reserves.”

Last month, the Monterey Shale was the subject of different scrutiny, describing mediocre results so far and complex geology. An Alliance Bernstein (AB) analyst questioned whether the Monterey would live up to some of the hype surrounding its future prospects (see Shale Daily, Aug. 7). However, even with these reservations, high oil prices could push the play closer to its potential, the report said.

AB analyst Bob Brackett contends that the Monterey Shale has been producing much less oil than hoped for by some government and private sector analysts who have seen it as one of the biggest U.S. oilfields with potential for 15 billion bbl of technically recoverable reserves.

Earlier this summer, two Wood Mackenzie analysts lauded shale plays globally as very good long-term assets, contending that the continuing hype about the under-explored Monterey was appropriate (see Shale Daily, July 5).