Capitol Alert

New lawsuit in California vs. Trump seeks to tighten rules on fracking

California, the third-largest oil producing state in the nation, on Wednesday sued the Trump administration to reinstate an Obama-era rule governing hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra argued the move by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to repeal regulations on fracking represents a threat to public health and the environment.

“The risks of fracking to our health and to our environment are real ... from the evaporation of toxic chemicals, to low level seismic events, to the contamination of our drinking water,” Becerra said at a news conference, adding that repeal constitutes “federal overreach.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior, under the Obama administration, finalized rules in 2015 governing fracking on federal and Native American lands. The regulations seek to ensure that oil and gas wells are constructed in a way that protects underground drinking water aquifers, to manage drilling fluids in an environmentally sound way and to publicly disclose chemicals used during the extraction process.

President Donald Trump last March moved to repeal the federal regulations, issuing an executive order requiring Zinke to review and “as soon as possible, suspend, revise or rescind” the oil and gas drilling guidelines. Zinke formally repealed the rule in December, saying it “unnecessarily burdens industry with compliance costs and information requirements that are duplicative of regulatory programs of many states and some tribes.”

The Bureau of Land Management, under Zinke, also issued an analysis declaring no “significant” environmental impacts associated with repeal.

In the complaint, Becerra contends that justification for repeal “runs counter to the evidence.” The Trump administration’s decision also violates a federal mandate to “ensure the environmentally responsible development of oil and gas resources on federal and Indian lands ... to protect the interests of the United States and to safeguard the public welfare,” according to the lawsuit.

The Trump administration’s finding that repealing the fracking rules has no “significant” environmental impacts also violates the requirements of environmental rules under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the complaint says.

“By repealing the ‘Fracking Rule’ in its entirety, (federal officials) have tossed aside the public interest in ensuring that fossil fuel development is conducted in an environmentally sound and safe manner, in service of what their own data shows is a negligible increase in oil and gas operators’ profits,” it says.

The lawsuit is the 26th California has filed against the Trump administration since Becerra took office last year. It represents escalating tension between the nation’s most populous state and the federal government, over environmental protections, immigration and health care.

Becerra on Wednesday didn’t rule out a future lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s decision to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters off California’s coast.

California is exploring all legal options “including litigation,” Becerra said, “if that’s what it takes to protect our coastline.”

“Whether it’s drilling (off) our coastline or fracking, we intend to protect the interests of California,” he said.

The federal government oversees 15 million acres of public lands in California, according to the latest lawsuit, with 600 producing oil and gas leases covering more than 200,000 acres and 7,900 usable oil and gas wells. The state is the third largest oil producer in the nation, with about 15 million barrels of oil per year, in addition to natural gas.