The Bureau of Land Management will call in a third party to conduct a science and planning review of oil and gas development practices, including hydraulic fracturing, on public lands overseen by the Hollister field office, according to an announcement released Friday.
The announcement comes in the midst of San Benito County's debate over the possibility of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Aromas area. Supervisors in May approved a new set of rules for oil exploration in the county.
That was shortly after a federal judge in April halted the practice of fracking on BLM lands while contending the agency had not adequately weighed risks of the practice, according to the McClatchy Tribune wire service.
Below is the BLM announcement:
As part of a cooperative effort with the State of California and in response to a series of legal challenges, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will launch a broad science review and a planning review of oil and gas development on public lands managed by the Hollister Field Office in California. The process will evaluate a full range of options, including whether such development is appropriate and if so, where and how it could be carried out safely and responsibly. Information resulting from the planning and science review will further inform future oil and gas leasing decisions.
The planning review will begin with a scoping period to solicit public input. This is the first phase of a process that may lead to the development of an environmental impact statement to amend one or more BLM resource management plans (RMPs) for field offices that have existing leases and expressions of interest in future leasing. Following publication of a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register on August 5 2013, interested parties will have 60 days to submit comments on issues related to oil and gas leasing and development. Public scoping meetings are tentatively scheduled for fall 2013. For more information on the scoping schedule visit: www.blm.gov/ca/eis-og.
The science review will be undertaken as part of a third party independent assessment of industry practices and the geology of oil and gas basins in the state. Led by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), the assessment report will consider geology, well completion techniques and the environmental impacts of those techniques. The report, anticipated in early 2014, will be peer-reviewed and published through CCST.
“The planning process, coupled with the findings of the science assessment, will improve our resource management plans,” said BLM California State Director, Jim Kenna. “This approach goes a long way toward bringing the most current scientific information on industry practices to planning and public dialogue about oil and gas leasing and development.”
Over the last 24 months, most oil and gas leasing actions on BLM-managed public lands in California have been litigated, appealed, or protested. In particular, the Hollister Field Office is facing legal challenges that threaten its ability to conduct oil and gas leasing. The scoping period provides the public an opportunity to comment on the full suite of oil and gas leasing and development issues in the geographic area covered by the field office. In addition, the science review and planning effort will allow the BLM to revisit litigated, appealed, and protested lease sales at a later date. Applications for permits to drill on existing leases will continue to be processed during the reviews.
Fifteen (15) days prior to the public scoping meetings, the BLM will publish a notice of the meetings in the Federal Register, issue news releases and post notices of the dates on multiple BLM California web pages. For more information visit www.blm.gov/ca/eis-og.