Environment

More oil fracking on Central California public lands? Thousands voice concerns on air, water

Hydraulic fracturing is currently used on between 10 to 20 percent of all oil and gas wells on public lands in Central California managed by the Bureau of Land Management Bakersfield Field Office. The BLM is in the process of reviewing the proposed environmental impact of fracking on new oil and gas leases.
Hydraulic fracturing is currently used on between 10 to 20 percent of all oil and gas wells on public lands in Central California managed by the Bureau of Land Management Bakersfield Field Office. The BLM is in the process of reviewing the proposed environmental impact of fracking on new oil and gas leases. Courtesy of BLM, Bakersfield Field Office.

Thousands of people have voiced concerns over the prospect of fracking on public lands that are open to oil and gas exploration across Central California.

Around 400,000 acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management are available for new oil and gas leases, including on the coast, and that could mean more fracking.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Bakersfield Field Office was flooded with 8,399 faxes, letters and emails about the issue during a 30-day public comment period, according to a scoping report released by the office Thursday.

“The BLM report proves what we already know – that residents and businesses throughout the central coast are overwhelmingly opposed to drilling and fracking our region’s iconic landscapes,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, said in a statement to The Tribune.

“Some of the issues brought up were air quality, water quality, water quantity, siesmicity and a host of other things such as wildlife resources, oil and gas resources,” Gabe Garcia, the BLM Bakersfield field manager, told The Tribune Thursday morning.

View a map of open leases here.

Most comments were submitted as form letters, but many people and organizations across the state weighed in after significant media about the potential for more fracking. Garcia said about 200 oil and gas wells are permitted in the Bakersfield district that stretches from Fresno to Ventura counties, and fracking is already used on about 20 percent of the wells.

“We need to protect our groundwater from contaminants, especially in America’s most populous state. ... And please know that a large percentage of the residents here on the Central Coast do not want ANY expansion of fracking,” Paso Robles resident April Nobile wrote to the BLM.

Similar concerns about water came from others in the area, including from Lina Kastner in Santa Ynez, who said, “We are in a grave drought condition” and “as an agricultural community, water is our life’s blood and must be used wisely.”

Carrie Miller of San Luis Obispo said any extraction of more fossil fuels “worsens the climate crisis.”

The scoping report outlines what issues the BLM will consider and address in a supplemental environmental impact statement and potential Resource Management Plan amendment on hydraulic fracturing.

The BLM doesn’t approve or deny fracking, Garcia said, but a section on fracking in the management plan would determine what mitigation efforts an oil or gas company would have to take if it used the technology. And that could make the practice economically unfeasible.

The BLM is required to do this environmental analysis by court order, the result of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres Forest Watch.

A Resource Management Plan in 2014 determined areas available for new oil and gas development on about 400,000 acres of BLM-administered public land and 1.2 million acres of federal mineral rights in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.

Garcia said that the BLM is not opening more land to oil and gas, rather these areas have been open for new leases for many years.

Future reports will pinpoint areas where fracking is currently happening and where officials expect it to happen in the future, Garcia said.

A draft environmental analysis is expected to be available for public review in spring 2019.

Los Padres ForestWatch is encouraged people to stay engaged in the issue.

“The future of our schools, conservation lands, military bases, wine-growing regions, state parks, lands adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument, and other important areas are all at stake. We encourage everyone to continue to speak out against this proposal once the draft environmental statement is released in 2019,” Kuyper said.

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Monica Vaughan reports on health, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo County, oil and wildlife at The Tribune. She previously covered crime and justice in the Sacramento Valley, is a graduate of the University of Oregon journalism school and is a sixth-generation Californian. Have an idea for a story? Email: mvaughan@thetribunenews.com

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