Red depicts lands proposed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for oil and gas lease sales. Source: Center for Biological Diversity

Public Resists Plans to Drill for Oil on Valley Public Lands

By Gary Lasky and Ron Martin

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) this year rolled out its latest proposal to auction off public lands for oil and gas drilling, following a federal court’s rejection of its earlier plan for the BLM’s failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The target is the San Joaquin Valley and Central California, including the coastal region from Monterey to Ventura. A total of 1.2 million acres for oil and gas leases will be on the auction block, including in the Sierra foothills and around the Valley.

The NEPA requires the BLM to hold public hearings. On May 21, the Central California Environmental Justice Coalition, the Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter and the Center for Biological Diversity organized to fill a charter bus with concerned Fresno residents to travel to the hearing in Bakersfield and make public comment on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Report.

The BLM refused requests to provide Spanish-language translation or accept spoken comments for the official record. So activists took matters into their own hands providing a translator and hiring a court reporter to transcribe 90 minutes of public testimony—including personal accounts of harm to the community from oil drilling.

Three weeks later, the organizers again traveled to Bakersfield to hand-deliver 90,000 comments. En route, they witnessed the huge Panorama Drive oil field covered with pump jacks bringing up toxic, steam-heated oil next to the Kern River, Bakersfield’s water supply.

This BLM plan is consistent with the abdication of government regulators by the Trump administration and the handing over of oil drilling regulation to the oil industry. This “energy dominance” will inevitably—and quickly—extinguish our hopes to mitigate the climate crisis created by the burning of fossil fuels.

When government regulators are screened for their reckless disregard of environmental protections in the interest of short-term oil industry profits, the question becomes, Who will control the government?

In New Mexico, the BLM lost a court challenge on May 7 when the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling, setting back an identical effort by the federal government to expand its federal oil and gas lease sale program there. The Court based its decision on the disregard by federal planners for the cumulative impact to the water supply from the proposal to frack thousands of oil wells.

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Gary Lasky and Ron Martin organize with the Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter, which is based in Fresno.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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