SLO County residents debate banning fracking, oil wells on the Central Coast
A new map released by a Central Coast environmental watchdog group shows areas in San Luis Obispo County that the Bureau of Land Management could open for fracking — including Morro Rock and a portion of Montaña de Oro State Park.
Los Padres ForestWatch — a Santa Barbara-based organization focused on protecting public lands — on Tuesday released an interactive map showing 273,000 acres of federal land and mineral holdings in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, is required to evaluate the environmental impacts of fracking on this land as part of a settlement reached after a 2015 lawsuit.
ForestWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the suit after the BLM developed a Resource Management Plan for the Bakersfield Field Office region — which includes San Luis Obispo County — in 2014.
The organizations wanted BLM to look more deeply into the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, which involves injecting liquid into the ground to extract oil or gas.
The lawsuit settlement requires the BLM to study federal holdings and prepare an environmental impact statement that will serve as a supplement to the 2014 Resource Management Plan. The agency also cannot lease any new land until the study is finished.
According to a recent Sacramento Bee story, the BLM hasn’t issued new energy leases in California since 2013, when a federal judge ruled the agency violated environmental laws after it opened oil leases in Monterey County without studying fracking.
San Luis Obispo County voters in November will consider a ballot measure banning new fracking in the region, but that would not apply to federally owned land.
Federal fracking land in SLO County
The ForestWatch map uses BLM data to show areas that could be open for energy leasing and are part of the ongoing study. Some of the land shown essentially has two different owners — the federal government, which owns underground mineral rights and another party, which owns the surface land rights.
“Now that we have this data, the impact is more clear to the public,” said Jeff Kuyper, ForestWatch executive director.
Some of the locations that appear on the map are well-known San Luis Obispo County landmarks, including Morro Rock and parts of Montaña de Oro and Reservoir Canyon Natural Reserve.
Other pieces of land are located near Los Osos Middle School, Lopez Lake, Santa Margarita Lake and Lake Nacimiento.
Gabe Garcia, field manager for the Bakersfield Field Office, emphasized that some open energy land may never be leased, even after the study is complete.
“We’re not going to lease Morro Rock,” he said.
Garcia said he doubts there will be a fracking boom in California, given the geography of the land and how difficult it might be for energy producers to extract minerals on land with different surface owners.
The environmental study will not provide new land for energy leases, only look at the impacts of fracking on already-existing parcels, he said.
“There’s nothing new we’re going to be opening up with this process,” Garcia said.
Both Garcia and Kuyper urged residents to submit their comments and concerns to the BLM before Sept. 7, when the 30-day participation period closes.
Emailed comments can be sent to email@example.com. Mailed comments can be sent to Bakersfield Field Office, Bureau of Land Management, Attn: Bakersfield RMP Hydraulic Fracturing Analysis, 3801 Pegasus Drive, Bakersfield, CA 93308.
Comments can also be sent through ForestWatch’s online portal at lpfw.org/fracking.