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Tuesday, March 26 , 2019, 2:54 pm | Partly Cloudy 63º

 
 
 
 

Trump Administration Approves Oil Drilling, Pipeline in Carrizo Plain National Monument

Project in San Luis Obispo County approved at site of an old oil well that had been slated for restoration, to the dismay of conservation groups

The Carrizo Plain National Monument is known for periodic prolific wildflower blooms. Los Padres ForestWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity are challenging the approval of a new oil well in Carrizo Plain National Monument, saying that the well and pipeline would harm threatened species. Click to view larger
The Carrizo Plain National Monument is known for periodic prolific wildflower blooms. Los Padres ForestWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity are challenging the approval of a new oil well in Carrizo Plain National Monument, saying that the well and pipeline would harm threatened species. (David Middlecamp / San Luis Obispo Tribune photo)

A new oil well and small pipeline has been approved in the Carrizo Plain National Monument on an old oil well that had been slated for restoration, to the dismay of conservation groups.

Those groups are challenging the approval and say the project falls short of the high environmental standards required to drill on protected lands. 

Lisa Belenky with the Center for Biological Diversity said that under President Donald Trump's administration, "we are seeing they're trying to open more and more public lands to oil and gas drilling without proper environmental review and moving them forward as fast as they can." 

E&B Natural Resources Management Corp., an independent oil and gas company based in Bakersfield, proposed drilling a new well on an existing lease within the Russell Ranch Oil Field.

The project, which was approved by the Bureau of Land Management within the Department of Interior, would use an existing road and pad located at the base of the Caliente Mountains along the western boundary of the national monument.

The Tribune reached out to E&B Resources for comment.

But Los Padres ForestWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity say the oil well and pipeline would harm threatened and endangered wildlife like the San Joaquin kit fox and a flowering plant called the Kern mallow, as well as impede scenic views. 

It's the first well the Interior Department has approved in the monument since it was established in 2001, the groups said. 

Two years ago the BLM approved the oil company's request to abandon the pad (which hasn't produced oil in decades) and remove infrastructure on the site to restore the area to natural conditions. That work wasn't done, and instead, the BLM in March approved the new well, a project that was originally proposed in 2012. 

"This is on an existing lease. The proposal for this was put out in 2012. We commented on it in that time, and nothing happened in those years," Belenky said. "Suddenly, this approval for this new well comes up. So it's a very odd situation. We were very surprised."

Jeff Kuyper of Los Padres ForestWatch echoed that sentiment.

"They seem to be backtracking on that commitment," he said.

One of the environmental concerns in the area is for the California condor, which Belenky said is attracted to oil or gas platforms because they are shiny and look like water. 

"It brings them down into harm's way. They see it and come down to investigate. There have been incidents in Los Padres National Forest where condors have been injured by getting oil on them or consuming micro-trash (small pieces of metal)," Belenky said.

The project also includes a proposed pipeline. BLM approved a .12-mile above-ground pipeline, and an alternative to the project listed in the Environmental Assessment would call for a three-quarter-mile underground pipeline along the road.

Belenky said above-ground pipelines can hinder animals' movement across the landscape, and construction equipment can crush burrows or kill animals.

The flip to approve new drilling instead of restoring the area could be an example of more oil well approvals to come. 

"They certainly might be using it as a test case. At the same time, this oil field has been in decline for several years. It hit its peak in the 1950s, and some documents suggest its nearing the end of its useful life. It's hard to reconcile that with drilling new wells there," Kuyper said. 

Existing oil leases were grandfathered in with the monument, which was established by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

Click here to read more from the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

Monica Vaughan is a reporter with the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Contact her at [email protected]

Los Padres ForestWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity are challenging the approval of a new oil well in Carrizo Plain National Monument, saying that the well and pipeline would harm threatened species in the area including the endangered San Joaquin kit fox, seen here. Click to view larger
Los Padres ForestWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity are challenging the approval of a new oil well in Carrizo Plain National Monument, saying that the well and pipeline would harm threatened species in the area including the endangered San Joaquin kit fox, seen here. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

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