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Center for Biological Diversity v. Bureau of Land Management

United States District Court for the Northern District of California
937 F. Supp. 2d 1140 (2013)


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (defendant) prepared an environmental assessment (EA) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq., for the sale of an oil and gas lease in California’s Monterey and Fresno counties. Based on a regional-management-plan projection, the EA concluded that one exploratory well would be drilled across the leased land. The EA did not discuss fracking, a harmful method for oil and gas extraction, despite the BLM’s acknowledgement of the increase in the use of fracking. The BLM reserved its fracking analysis for the receipt of drilling applications from lessees. The BLM issued a finding of no significant impact for the lease sale and issued four leases without preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) under NEPA. While each lease contained stipulations regarding endangered species and cultural resources, only two leases contained a No Surface Occupancy (NSO) stipulation that prevented surface disturbances without the BLM’s authorization. The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups (plaintiffs) sought relief in district court, claiming that the BLM’s lease sale violated NEPA and the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA), 30 U.S.C. §§ 181 et seq. The plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, arguing that the BLM was required by the MLA to incorporate specific actions to minimize the waste of oil or gas, rather than a general requirement to minimize adverse environmental impacts. The BLM also moved for summary judgment, arguing that (1) the lease stipulations regarding endangered species and cultural resources gave the BLM regulatory power over lessees, (2) an EIS was unnecessary under NEPA because the EA was tiered to the regional plan, and (3) NEPA analysis should be limited to site-specific proposals because the extent and scope of fracking were unknown.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Grewal, J.)

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