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Local News

Lawsuit Launched Over Oil, Gas Development in Los Padres National Forest

The Center for Biological Diversity, Los Padres ForestWatch and Defenders of Wildlife filed a notice of intent this month to sue the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other federal agencies over invalid and outdated Endangered Species Act approvals on a 2005 U.S. Forest Service plan that allowed expanded oil and gas development throughout the Los Padres National Forest.

The challenge aims to halt new leasing or drilling approvals pending Endangered Species Act compliance. The notice seeks to protect the following areas in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties that were made available for drilling and fracking in the 2005 plan:

1) The front range of the Topa Topa Mountains between Ojai and Santa Paula (Ventura County)
2) Lands in the lower Sespe, Hopper Mountain and Lake Piru areas (Ventura County)
3) The northern foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains in the Cuyama Valley (Santa Barbara County)
4) The Cuyama Valley highlands, including Apache and Quatal canyons adjacent to the Chumash Wilderness (Santa Barbara County)
 
Expanded oil and gas operations — including fracking — would further industrialize public lands, cause climate pollution, harm endangered species like steelhead trout and California condor, and threaten to pollute water supplies amidst the state’s historic drought.

The plan estimates that drilling in the Los Padres would produce less than a day’s supply of oil for our country over the course of the next 20 years.
 
“The Los Padres National Forest attracts millions of visitors each year to take in its scenic vistas, escape nearby city life and enjoy a wide range of recreational opportunities, including world-class fly fishing, hiking and wildlife viewing,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch.

“Unfortunately, the U.S. Forest Service’s plan would auction off these treasured landscapes to the highest bidder, placing them — and the clean water they provide to our wildlife and communities — at grave risk from oil development and fracking.”
 
Approvals to expand oil and gas drilling were granted under a 2005 “oil and gas leasing analysis for the Los Padres National Forest.”

They fail to account for an avalanche of new information relating to how regional drought, climate change and more extreme fracking technology may damage endangered species and their habitats, such as by causing more wildfires and polluting precious surface and groundwater supplies.  
 
Said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity: “We can’t allow fracking pollution to threaten California’s public lands and waters.

"Even the 2005 decision relied on outdated data information to conclude that new oil drilling will not have any significant impacts, and now there’s much more information showing the devastating effects of these activities.

“Oil and gas exploration and operations can have serious consequences for condors and other wildlife in the Los Padres National Forest, so the Forest Service must fully consider the impacts to our waters and wildlife,” she said.
 
In September 2016, a federal judge ruled that the Bureau of Land Management’s Bakersfield office violated the law when it adopted a plan that would allow oil and gas operations across millions of acres of public lands, including those in the Los Padres, without considering the environmental risks of fracking.

In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the agency violated the law when it issued oil leases in Monterey County without considering the environmental risks of fracking.
 
The Center for Biological Diversity, Los Padres ForestWatch and Defenders of Wildlife previously challenged the 2005 plan for failing to fully analyze impacts of oil and gas operations under the National Environmental Policy Act. Today the conservation groups notified the Forest Service of the need for supplemental environmental review.

The groups also point out that the expansion of fossil fuel development on public lands is contrary to the nation’s climate goals and called on President Obama to halt new fossil fuel extraction on our public lands.
 
“Wildlife and habitat across the country are already feeling the effects of climate change,” said Pamela Flick, California representative with Defenders of Wildlife.

“It makes no sense to increase our climate emissions on public lands, further threatening endangered species, at a time when our state, nation and the world are joining together to curb carbon emissions — all for just a day’s supply of oil,” she said.

— Jeff Kuyper for Los Padres ForestWatch.

 

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