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Feds auction prime California land for oil development

SAN FRANCISCO — The federal government auctioned off nearly 18,000 acres of oil leases on prime public lands on Wednesday in Central California, home to prized vineyards, several endangered species and one of the largest deposits of shale oil in the country.

Eight different groups — including oil companies — bid for the leases involving 15 parcels of land up for auction in rural stretches of Monterey, San Benito and Fresno counties, Bureau of Land Management spokesman David Christy said. The agency plans to announce the winners within 24 hours.

Numerous environmental groups who see the auction as a sign that California is next in line for an oil and gas boom protested outside the auction in Sacramento, with some activists donning hazmat suits.

Democratic Rep. Sam Farr had asked the agency to put the auction on hold over concerns that the bureau wasn't doing enough to monitor the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Winning bidders would have to be granted an additional permit from the bureau in order to start drilling using traditional technologies, or fracking, a technique to extract hard-to-reach gas and oil by pummeling rocks deep underground with high-pressure water, sand and chemicals.


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