Oil rig pump jacks work the oil fields near the town of Maricopa, Calif. in March 2013. Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced on Friday plans to open about 720,000 acres of land in California’s central coast to oil and gas lease sales.

Why it matters: New federal land has not been freed up for fossil fuel extraction in the region since at least 2013, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Environmentalists say new oil rigs will hurt California's land and water and contribute to climate change. However, the Interior Department claims the expansion will help ensure the U.S. achieves energy independence and economic growth.

  • Some environmentalists are threatening to go to court over this decision.
  • BLM says, "The decision does not authorize any actual drilling for exploration or development of oil and gas resources."

Flashback: Two conservation groups sued the Interior Department nearly 6 years ago for failing to consider at the environmental impacts of fracking, per the Chronicle.

Details: Friday's decision immediately green-lights 14 drilling leases in San Benito, Monterey and Fresno counties. Each of those projects has been long-desired by fossil fuel companies interested in expanding, writes the Chronicle.

  • In total, the decision to move forward with the leasing plan makes 11 counties available for energy development.As a result, BLM officials estimate as many as 37 new oil and gas wells will be developed over the next 20 years.
  • Between state and private lands in the area, the region already has more than 18,000 wells, according to federal figures the Chronicle cited.
  • In a press release, BLM said it plans to support "recovery of threatened and endangered plants and animals."
  • There will not be any leases on designated BLM wilderness.

Thought bubble per Axios' Amy Harder: This is sure to further inflame already tense relations between the Trump administration and California, which are already fighting over the state’s ability to issue tougher fuel efficiency standards.

Go deeper: How the U.S. oil boom echoes through the economy

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