| HOUSTON, Sept 7
HOUSTON, Sept 7 A U.S. judge on Wednesday halted
a plan to allow fracking on public lands in central California,
saying a federal agency's environmental plan should have taken a
"hard look" at the potential impact of the process.
The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald, was
at least the second setback in three years for fracking in
California and came as the Obama administration's rules for
hydraulic fracturing on federal lands have been tied up in
The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land
Management (BLM), which periodically leases out land to private
producers, offered a plan that would have allowed fracking on
about a quarter of new wells drilled on some 1 million acres
across central California.
The final outcome is not clear as Judge Fitzgerald asked
both sides for a further briefing on Sept. 21 as the case
enters its remedy phase.
But it could be similar to that a 2013 case in which a
federal judge ruled that the BLM violated the National
Environmental Policy Act when it issued oil leases in
California's Monterey County without considering the
environmental dangers of fracking.
Since that ruling, the BLM has refrained from holding any
lease sales in that area until it completes an environmental
review of the risks of fracking, said one of the plaintiffs in
the cases, the Center for Biological Diversity.
California has long had an oil and gas industry, but it has
trailed Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota in fracking. Industry
experts say that stems from regulatory uncertainty and more
complex geology in California.
Fracking, currently regulated by states, involves injection
of large amounts of water, sand and chemicals underground at
high pressure to extract oil or natural gas.
A federal judge in Wyoming in June struck down the Obama
administration's rules for fracking on public lands, holding
that Congress had not delegated to the BLM the authority to
regulate it. That ruling is under appeal.
The BLM's rules, issued in their final form in March 2015,
required companies to provide data on chemicals used in
hydraulic fracturing and to take steps to prevent leakage from
oil and gas wells on federally owned land.
Environmental groups, while acknowledging that most fracking
happens on private lands, said the BLM rules should be stronger.
The case is No. CV-15-4378 in United States District Court,
Central District of California.
(Reporting By Terry Wade; Editing by Ernest Scheyder and Steve