Good medicine once again prevailed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento on January 30, 2017, in our court case challenging industrial geothermal projects that would devastate the remote pristine Medicine Lake Highlands and its waters. Our current lawsuit disputes 26 industrial geothermal leases that, if developed, would bring hydraulic fracturing (aka ‘fracking’) through a huge pristine aquifer, as well as massive disturbance of a magnificent sacred landscape vital to Native American culture and a major source of California’s waters.

Last April, the court ruled that BLM had unlawfully renewed the 26 leases in 1998 without environmental review or consultations with Native Tribes. To remedy this, BLM indicated they could renew the leases for 40 more years under 2005 Bush-era regulations that bypass the review processes. Our attorneys maintained that the lease extensions could only be made under the original regulations, which require compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and the Trust obligation to consult with Native Americans.

Judge John A. Mendez agreed with the legal arguments made by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic representing our coalition, which besides the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center, includes the Pit River Tribe, Native Coalition for Medicine Lake Highlands Defense, and Medicine Lake Citizens for Quality Environment. However, the ruling also stipulated that should BLM decide to try to proceed with the lease extension under the 2005 regulations, the agency would need to present arguments that address the objections made by our attorneys.

Given the precedent set by the 2006 Ninth Circuit Court decision on our first case that leases could only be renewed under the original regulations, it is unlikely that BLM will be able to extend the leases without environmental review and Native American consultations.

If BLM does decide to renew the leases, they would need to justify their action through an extensive supplement to the Environmental Impact Statement to account for the new information that has been developed since the original decision. This includes the designation of a 113-square mile Native American Cultural District by the National Register of Historic Places, and evidence provided by Dr. Robert Curry and M. Lee Davisson that the Medicine Lake Highlands sit on top of an aquifer that feeds the Fall River Springs, the largest spring system in California. Drilling 9,000 feet (almost 2 miles) and hydraulic fracturing with toxic chemicals through this pristine aquifer would be insane, especially in a highly seismic area like the Medicine Lake Highlands.

While it seems there’s always another step for the developers to take, we remain hopeful that our arguments to preserve the sacred Medicine Lake Highlands will prevail in the short or long term. After all, neither the Pit River Tribe nor we environmental water protectors are going anywhere!

– Michelle Berditschevsky