OAKLAND, Calif. (August 12, 2005) -- Today a federal judge barred the government from extending 37 undeveloped oil and gas leases off California's coast, declaring that the government improperly considered risks to the ocean and marine life. U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled from the bench in Oakland federal court even before issuing a written opinion. She did so because, otherwise, the government could have extended the leases as soon as next Monday.
The judge's ruling came one day after the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to reject the proposal to extend the leases by the Mineral Management Service (MMS), a division of the U.S. Department of Interior. But MMS could have extended the leases over the commission's objection. Attorneys for 10 conservation groups that sued to block the agency hailed the judge's decision. "The agency said the lease extensions would have no significant effect on the environment, but it didn't look at the long-term effects of new oil and gas development," said Drew Caputo, a senior attorney with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "Instead it focused only on the short term, when government bureaucrats would have been processing paperwork. We argued that the agency's analysis was illegal, and the judge agreed."
The ruling means the government will have to prepare a new environmental analysis of the effects of the leases. The Interior Department originally sold the leases between 1968 and 1984. Developing the leases, located off the coasts of Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, would extend oil production off the coast of California for at least 25 years. Although impacts from development would last for decades, the fuel produced would provide less than one month's energy supply for the nation.
"This ruling is important because it requires the federal government to finally disclose all of the far-reaching impacts from offshore oil and gas development, including risks of oil spills, air and water pollution, harm to sea otters and other threatened and endangered species, and impacts to coastal recreation, views and tourism," said Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center (EDC).
The groups that sued were led by NRDC and EDC. The other groups are the League for Coastal Protection, The Otter Project, Sierra Club, Citizens Planning Association of Santa Barbara County, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment California, Get Oil Out!, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, and the Surfrider Foundation.