Saturday, October 20 , 2018, 2:45 am | Fair 55º

 
 
 
 

Trump Administration Plan to Allow Oil Drilling, Fracking Impacts Key Local Lands

The Trump Administration is seeking to open nearly 122,000 acres of federal land and mineral estate in the county to fracking and oil drilling, according to an analysis of official GIS data performed by the local nonprofit watchdog organization Los Padres ForestWatch.

The areas slated for drilling are part of a regional study — launched earlier this month — evaluating the environmental and public health impacts of fracking across 1.6 million acres in six counties in central California.

The BLM is accepting comments on its study of drilling and fracking until Sept. 7.

The public can submit comments to BLM via an online portal at www.LPFW.org/fracking or directly through the BLM website, https://www.blm.gov.

According to the BLM data, the study could open several key parcels in Santa Barbara County to drilling and fracking, including:

» Carpinteria: A 40-acre parcel within 2,000 feet of Cate School and directly adjacent to Los Padres National Forest. This is a privately owned parcel with federally owned subsurface mineral rights.

» Santa Ynez Mountains: Two BLM parcels along the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains. One (217 acres) is on the north face of Bald Mountain. The other (120 acres) is in the headwaters of Nojoqui Creek near Nojoqui Falls County Park. Both are directly adjacent to Los Padres National Forest.

» Scenic Highway 154: Two small Bureau of Reclamation parcels (20 acres total) near Lake Cachuma along Highway 154, a California Scenic Highway.

» Lake Cachuma: A 40-acre Bureau of Reclamation parcel on the north side of Lake Cachuma near Happy Canyon Road, adjacent to Los Padres National Forest.

» Sisquoc River & San Rafael Wilderness: Several parcels totaling 1,766 acres inside the national forest boundary near the Sisquoc River, including one parcel adjacent to the San Rafael Wilderness and another parcel straddling the Sisquoc River, which is critical habitat for endangered steelhead.

» Tepusquet Canyon: Several BLM parcels totaling 1,793 acres in a rural, remote canyon east of Santa Maria. One of the largest parcels straddles Colson Canyon Road, one of the few gateways into Los Padres National Forest in northern Santa Barbara County.

» Cuyama Valley Foothills: 13,375 acres along the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains in the Cuyama Valley.

Most of these parcels are adjacent to national forest lands proposed for wilderness protection under the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act introduced in the House and Senate earlier this year.

Two areas to be opened to drilling and fracking are major gateways into Los Padres National Forest — Santa Barbara Canyon and Bates Canyon. Both have publicly accessible trailheads and roads leading into Los Padres National Forest.

» Purisima Hills: Several parcels between Los Alamos and Lompoc in the Purisima Hills, including four parcels totaling 160 acres owned by the Rancho Santa Rita Preserve, part of the state and federally approved La Purisima Conservation Bank.

The 853-acre bank (the first of its kind in Santa Barbara County) provides a mechanism for developers and agencies to mitigate their impacts by purchasing mitigation credits at the property. The conservation bank contains a healthy population of endangered California tiger salamanders.

» Vandenberg Air Force Base: 102,650 acres — nearly the entire base — is slated as “open” for drilling.

Some of these lands are owned by BLM, while others are known as split estate parcels because the BLM only owns the underlying mineral rights (and not the surface, which is owned by a private landowner).

For these split-estate parcels, the BLM did not directly notify the overlying surface owners of the public comment period that is currently underway, and many were unaware of it until ForestWatch requested the data from BLM, analyzed it using mapping software, and notified the landowners.

Under federal law, once its study is complete, the BLM can auction off the drilling rights to these parcels for as little as $2 per acre, possibly giving oil companies the right to construct roads, oil wells, pipelines, and other infrastructure on these parcels.

“This plan is a direct attack on some of the most iconic landmarks in Santa Barbara County,” said ForestWatch executive director Jeff Kuyper.

“Drilling and fracking would irreparably change these places that have been set aside for their outdoor recreation opportunities, wildlife habitat, and scenic views,” he said.

ForestWatch has posted the BLM’s GIS data on an easy-to-use interactive map showing the parcels open for drilling and fracking. Numerous requests from conservation groups prompted BLM to make the information publicly available during the comment period.

“County residents are concerned about the impacts of drilling and fracking near our region’s most treasured forests, wildlife refuges, national monuments, nature preserves, and trails,” said Kuyper.

“We need to tell the Trump Administration loud and clear that we’re not willing to pollute and industrialize these iconic landscapes,” he said.

Background

On Aug. 8, the Trump Administration launched a 30-day public comment period on a study of environmental and public health impacts of hydraulic fracking in central California.

The move is the first step in a process that will decide whether to allow the controversial oil extraction technique across 1.6 million acres of federal public land and mineral rights in Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Kern, and neighboring counties.

Along with the Federal Register notice, the BLM published a blurry map showing which parcels could be opened to drilling and fracking.

The poor quality of the map prompted ForestWatch and its partner the Center for Biological Diversity to request access to the GIS parcel data that BLM used to produce the map.

The BLM provided that data to us on Aug. 21, nearly two weeks after receiving the requests and halfway into the public comment period.

The drilling and fracking study was prompted by a 2015 lawsuit filed by Los Padres ForestWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Earthjustice.

The lawsuit alleged that the Bureau of Land Management failed to consider the impacts of fracking as part of the BLM’s update of its Resource Management Plan for federal lands within the jurisdiction of the agency’s Bakersfield Field Office.

The groups prevailed in 2016 when a federal court ruled that BLM failed to adequately analyze the impacts of fracking across vast swaths of public land in the region.

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, based in Los Angeles, ordered the agency to evaluate those impacts in a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

In a settlement agreement with ForestWatch and the Center, the BLM agreed to not issue any new leases for oil drilling in the region until the supplemental report is complete. The 30-day comment period begins that process.

At the conclusion of the analysis, the BLM may consider amending its management plan to impose additional restrictions on fracking that would apply on some or all of the 1.6 million acres of land currently open for new oil leasing.

The analysis covers 400,000 acres of federal land and an additional 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate, including thousands of acres adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest, Carrizo Plain National Monument, Hopper Mountain and Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuges, and the Wind Wolves Preserve.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a process whereby water, sand and thousands of gallons of chemical additives are injected underground to break apart rock formations and stimulate the extraction of oil and gas.

The technique has come under increasing scrutiny from scientists, regulators and the public due to concerns with groundwater contamination, surface water pollution, water consumption, and public health.

Hundreds of fracking chemicals are known to be toxic to humans and wildlife, and several are known to cause cancer, according to several peer-reviewed studies by scientists and state regulators.

A 2015 report from the California Council on Science and Technology highlighted these risks.

Rebecca August for Los Padres ForestWatch.

 

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