The Trump administration released a draft plan that would expose more than 1 million acres of public and private land in California to oil drilling on Thursday.
The reopening of these lands would end a five-year freeze that made it illegal to lease federal lands in California. The proposed plan would allow companies to extract oil using hydraulic fracturing — also known as fracking — which harms the environment and can lead to water and air pollution.
The Interior Department had previously banned the leasing of federal lands to oil companies that used public lands for fossil fuel extraction under the Obama administration, citing its hazardous environmental effects.
The freeze sparked backlash from the coal industry, which was asked to pay increased royalties in order to mine on public lands. However, President Trump suspended the measure early in his presidency.
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The administration's new plan may face legal pushback.
“Litigation is always something that is on the table when the administration ignores the law and puts our health, our climate and our public lands at risk,” Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, told HuffPost on Thursday. Lakewood’s organization, the Center for Biological Diversity, was one of several groups involved in previous lawsuits to protect California's lands against drilling and fracking.
“What we’re seeing with this draft is an agency that is ignoring the rules to rush out a plan that suits the fossil fuel industry, at the expense of Californians,” she added.
Fracking is an extraction process that injects liquids into the ground at a high pressure to break open rocks and aid underground drilling. The liquid is a mixture of water and chemicals that harm the environment, can pollute groundwater, and poses harmful risks to nearby communities.
One of the chemicals used in the process is methane, 4% of which is released into the atmosphere during extraction. Methane absorbs heat at a 25% higher rate than carbon dioxide, affecting the air quality of the sites closest to the drills.
Mark Rose, a field representative for the National Parks Conservation Association, said he is concerned about the impact of fracking on wildlife in these areas.
“When you open up ... this wide swath of land, it really scares us that wells could be drilled right next to a national park like Sequoia, which is already one of the most polluted parks in the country for air pollution,” Rose said.
The current plan targets federal lands in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura counties.
While fracking and drilling may result in some economic gains, a recent, extensive report on the effects of fracking in Texas uncovered particular risks of hydraulic fracturing, including a connection between the drilling process and an increased frequency of earthquakes.
The report also found that drilling also "degraded natural resources, overwhelmed small communities and even boosted the frequency and severity of traffic collisions as workers and equipment rush to oil fields," the Houston Chronicle reported.
“This proposal targets some of our region's most iconic landscapes, including state parks, nature reserves, recreation areas and national parks, forests and monuments," Jeff Kuyper, the executive director for local nonprofit Los Padres ForestWatch, said.
"Residents throughout the central coast who care about the fate of these lands should let their voices be heard during the comment period."