On April 29, 2019, the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a Draft Supplement Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS) analyzing potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing for future oil & gas development within the 400,000 acre Bakersfield Field Office Planning Area. That planning area includes Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Venture counties.
The Need for a Supplemental EIS
The Draft SEIS is the latest development in BLM’s ongoing management of oil and gas resources and supplements BLM’s 2012 Final EIS, associated with BLM’s 2014 Resources Management Plan (RMP). The 2014 RMP was challenged by the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch (Civ. No. 2:15-cv-04378-MWF/JEM). In 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued a summary judgment ruling that BLM had failed to take the required “hard look” at hydraulic fracturing. In 2017, the parties reached a settlement agreement that kept in place the 2014 RMP and required BLM to prepare a SEIS to analyze the environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing.
BLM issued the requisite Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare that Draft SEIS in August 2018. That same NOI also contemplated a possible amendment to the 2014 RMP. However, in the Draft SEIS determined that the environmental impacts of integrating hydraulic fracturing into future BLM leasing and development decision did not conflict with the earlier RMP and amendment was unnecessary.
The Draft SEIS is limited in scope to only the addition of hydraulic fracturing to new BLM leasing and development decisions, and analyzed those impacts only at the land use level. BLM explicitly notes that oil and gas leasing and development on federal mineral state is subject to multiple stages of environmental analysis and authorization.
BLM also notes that the use of hydraulic fracturing is relatively small in California, and generally confined to old oilfields and existing leases – which are not the subject of the 2014 RMP. The Draft SEIS addressed issues identified in the 2018 NOI, including:
The majority of the Draft SEIS relies on the same information used in the 2012 Final EIS, with additional information relating to Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change; Archeological Sites; Native American Values for the nine (9) federally recognized tribes and three (3) non-federally recognized tribes; and Seismicity. In analyzing the increase in wells, BLM determined that zero to four new wells per year, or up to forty (40) total wells over the ten-year life of the 2014 RMP would be developed by hydraulic fracturing. Consequently, the majority of BLM’s analysis determined that hydraulic fracturing would have minimal impacts above traditional well development. For example, int the Air Emissions section, conventional oil and gas wells were project to increase NOx emissions by 2.18 tons per year and hydraulic fracturing wells were projected to increased NOx emissions by 2.74 tons per year. However, hydraulic fracturing wells had significantly less project Reactive Organic Gases (0.21 tons per year) than conventional wells (7.35 tons per year). BLM reached similar conclusions for each of the issues within the Draft SEIS: that there would be no notable increase in total impacts.
A 45-day public comment period began April 26 and ends on June 10. BLM held public meetings on the following dates. As they did with the results of the EIS, environmental groups also complained about the methods employed to take their comments at these forums, which were limited to comments received in writing.
Interested parties may submit written public comments on the Draft SEIS via the project website. Comments may also be submitted by mail to:
Copies of BLM’s Draft SEIS Documentation, including the Draft SEIS, Notice of Intent, and Public Scoping summary, may be found here.