Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced it would resume leasing public lands to oil and gas companies. The BLM claims to have based this decision on an environmental fracking report it commissioned, despite the fact that the report’s own authors admit that they were denied adequate scientific resources to complete the study.
Last year, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the federal government for leasing 2,500 acres of public Monterey County land to oil and gas companies. The sales were illegal, the plaintiffs claimed, without an official environmental review on the risks of hydraulic fracturing.
A federal judge ruled in favor of the environmental groups and ordered a halt to the leases until a study could be conducted. The study was subsequently carried out by the California Council on Science and Technology, a nonpartisan scientific research organization.
In August, the California Director of the BLM, Jim Kenna, announced that his agency would begin issuing leases again on the basis of the CCST’s report. However, the report’s authors openly admit that their analysis lacks crucial data.
“Investigators could not determine the groundwater quality near many hydraulic fracturing operations and found that existing data was insufficient to evaluate the extent to which contamination may have occurred,” they write.
Further, “No information could be found about the toxicity of about a third of the [fracking] chemicals and few of the chemicals have been evaluated to see if animals or plants would be harmed by chronic exposure.”
Of greatest concern is the effect of fracking at shallow depths: “Hydraulic fracturing at shallow depths poses a greater potential risk to water resources because of its proximity to groundwater and the potential for fractures to intersect nearby aquifers.”
The threat of aquifer contamination is a serious one, as Pennsylvania residents recently discovered. Last week, the state’s Department of Environment revealed that the Marcellus Shale’s numerous fracking operations have contaminated 243 wells in 22 Pennsylvania counties.
“We can only tell you what the data we could get says,” said Jane Long, one of the CCST report’s authors. “We can’t tell you what we don’t know.”
To Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, the BLM’s willingness to approve leases on the basis of inadequate research is a reckless offense. “This report raises grave concerns about fracking pollution’s threat to California’s air and water,” she said. “But it also highlights the fact that government officials have never collected the data needed to determine the extent of the damage in our state. Using this report as a basis for continued fracking in California is illogical and illegal.”