Friday, February 28, 2020     Volume: 20, Issue: 52

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 11th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 36 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 36

Local environmental groups battle against fracking leases

By William D'Urso

Local environmental advocates are fighting plans to expand or kickstart fracking on federal lands in California’s Central Valley and on the Central Coast.

The directive to allow fracking and oil drilling on public land, which will impact about 725,000 acres on the Central Coast, comes from President Donald Trump. A final environmental impact statement released by the BLM on Oct. 31 analyzes the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing associated with oil and gas development on new leases on public lands.

Rebecca August, director of advocacy for Los Padres ForestWatch, said it could bring a host of environmental and ecological problems.

“We hoped they would give the environmental impact a real look. The lands that they’re opening are really sensitive almost across the board,” she said.

Fracking is a specific technique used for drawing oil out of the ground where conventional drilling is not effective. Critics say it releases a variety of pollutants into the air including methane and other particulates. There are also concerns with groundwater and how fracking could impact drinking water supplies.

Gregg Hart, Santa Barbara County’s 2nd District Supervisor, said his constituents are worried about the environmental impact.

“This kind of proposal is an example of overreach and not letting science dictate the approach,” he said. “I don’t think it makes sense at any level. These are lands that should be protected.”

Wendy Parker, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands program, said her organization has already filed lawsuits in the matter and may file more.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the government body that presides over these lands, said it is still reviewing the litigation brought against it.

Mineral extraction projects can be lucrative and drive local economies, according to numbers provided by the BLM. It reports that land managed by the BLM’s Bakersfield Field Office have generated about 3,500 jobs, $200 million in annual economic benefit. The BLM collects 12.5 percent in royalties from every barrel of oil produced on federal land, it reports, bringing in between $65 million and $90 million. The state of California benefits too, sharing in about half of those royalties.

The BLM estimates that oil and gas on the Central Coast produces $620 million in tax revenue and 3,000 jobs.

Some past attempts to issue oil leases have been blocked. In a 2013 lawsuit with the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity was able to halt oil leases issued by the BLM in Monterey and Fresno counties. The suit argued the risks of fracking hadn’t been properly evaluated.

Parker said she and her colleagues will be looking at reports the BLM is mandated to write, detailing the environmental risks of fracking. In the past, she said, the center has had success arguing that the reports analyzing the effects on hydraulic fracking have been inadequate.

“We are still reviewing everything, but it looks like it has all the same problems the drafted study had,” she said.

Parker, who’s organization is fighting the BLM in both the Central Valley and on the Central Coast, stressed that the areas are different and have different legal arguments.

The lawsuit regarding the Central Coast, filed on Oct 4, contends that the BLM did not properly evaluate the environmental risks, including what effect fracking could have on inducing earthquakes.

Environmental advocates are also concerned about the potential for habitat destruction. August said the decision could allow drilling on a range of sites in Santa Barbara County, including Vandenberg Air Force Base and the accompanying beach. It would also include land in the Santa Ynez Mountains, Lake Cachuma and Tepusquet Canyon.

The BLM is currently adding to its report for the central valley and has held meetings for residents in the area. Parker said those meetings have not paid proper attention to the Spanish speaking populations there by not supplying translators. But the BLM reported that it had held three public meetings and received upward of 16,000 comments.

“This effort supports the Administration’s priority of promoting environmentally responsible energy development, while creating jobs and providing economic opportunities for local communities,” the BLM’s California office said in a news release.

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