SLO County residents debate banning fracking, oil wells on the Central Coast
Residents concerned about the potential impacts of oil drilling and fracking in Santa Barbara County gathered in downtown Santa Barbara on Thursday to speak out against a proposal made by the Trump administration.
More than 40 community members, area elected officials and environmental groups rallied against the plan to expand drilling and fracking across nearly 122,000 acres of federal land and mineral estate in the county.
Demonstrators assembled at the county Courthouse Sunken Garden just after noon for a rally that centered on messages of protecting public land, speaking publicly and advocating against the Trump administration’s plan and for a clean-energy future.
“The heart and essence of what makes Santa Barbara County what it is — is at stake,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, a nonprofit conservationist group. “Some of the areas they are targeting are truly astonishing and jaw-dropping.”
The demonstration follows an announcement in August by the Bureau of Land Management launching a study of whether to allow oil drilling and fracking across 1.6 million acres of public land and federal mineral estate acreage in eight central California counties, Kuyper said.
“Our region’s public lands are vitally important,” he said. “We use them and rely on them for outdoor recreation, the tourism dollars they bring to our communities, and the wildlife habitat they provide. It’s a place for solitude, and enjoyment of all residents within the county and beyond.
“Unfortunately, the Trump administration is not recognizing those benefits — they are trying to fast track this proposal under a new policy that recently went into effect. It’s part of a national trend to impose artificial deadlines to ram these proposals through the process despite the concerns and desires of the public.”
Kuyper said the oil drilling and fracking plan by administration officials targets parts of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the Purisima and Santa Rita Hills, Tepusquet Canyon, Cuyama Valley foothills, along Highway 154, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and land near or adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest, the San Rafael Wilderness, the Sisquoc River, Lake Cachuma and Cate School in Carpinteria.
“The Carpinteria parcel the Bureau of Land Management has proposed for energy exploration is a half-mile from our property,” said Hallie Greene, Cate School’s director of strategic initiatives. “We are deeply opposed to the proposed fracking and oil drilling.”
The comment period for the Bureau of Land Management’s plan ended in early-September, Kuyper said, and the agency received more than 8,000 comments.
Third District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joan Hartmann said community members and stakeholders did not have adequate time to submit comments.
“Instead of the timely notice, a common courtesy, it feels like what the county government got from the federal government is a sharp stick in the eye,” Hartmann said. “My focus is on the lack of timely notice about the BLM’s fracking proposal to amend its management plan.”
Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, provided information on how residents can submit comments through his office.
“I requested that the BLM extend this comment period, which was denied,” Carbajal said. “I’m encouraging everyone to submit your comments on my website, and my office will make sure they are delivered to the BLM appropriately.”
A lone anti-Carbajal protester with a large sign that read: “Carbajal thinks he’s slick” showed up and stood behind the speakers, apparently to oppose his “legislative policies.”
When asked about why he attended the gathering focusing on opposing oil drilling and fracking, 20-year-old Jordan, who declined to give his last name, replied, “This was an anti-oil thing, and the most important question to ask is, ‘How did the majority of people get here?’ People did not bike.”
Other protesters used multiple signs that read: “Salud supports our earth” and “Sierra Club supports Salud Carbajal” to block Jordan.
Administration officials are expected to release a draft environmental impact statement in 2019.
Among those who later took to the microphone were First District Supervisor Das Williams and CJ Jackson, vice president of Alisal Properties.
“What we need to do is stand against, we need to resist, we need to make sure the Trump administration and federal government know that increased and expanded oil drilling on our public lands — it’s wrong,” Williams said. “It’s wrong for the county of Santa Barbara.”