Frack off

In ongoing environmental struggle between Washington D.C. and the Golden State, conservationists win the latest round

Conservation groups won a major victory against the oil industry in early November after a judge halted all fracking permits in federal waters off California’s coast.

The injunction came after two years of legal battles involving the California Coastal Commission, the Environmental Defense Center and the Center for Biological Diversity, and federal regulators working for the Trump administration. Specifically, the plaintiffs were suing President Trump’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement for trying to process some 50 new fracking permits off Santa Barbara.

During a November 5 hearing in the U.S. Central District Court of California, attorneys for the conservation groups argued that the OEM had not consulted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about what chemicals, acids and fluid pollutant discharges from fracking would do to a host of endangered species, including the blue whale, the southern sea otter and the western snowy plover seabird.

Blue whales, the largest whales in the ocean, were almost hunted to extinction in the 1960s. Though their population has started to recover in California’s coastal waters, the World Wildlife Federation identifies them as one of the largest mammals most directly threatened by climate change.

Attorneys for Trump’s regulators presented an elaborate argument in the hearing that the California groups had no legal standing for procedural reasons. That was an assertion that federal Judge Philip S. Gutierrez called “too clever by half” in his ruling. Gutierrez then issued an injunction to halt all fracking and acidizing permits off the coast until more analysis is done on the consequences for ocean habitat.

Maggie Hall, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Center, called Gutierrez’s decision a big win against “risky practices” threatening endangered wildlife.