Santa Barbara crowd rallies against plan to open public lands to oil fracking

Critics attack Trump plan to allow new oil leases, fracking in California

The Bureau of Land Management hosted a public meeting in San Luis Obispo on May 22, 2019, about its plan to reopen public lands to new oil and gas leasing, including fracking.
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The Bureau of Land Management hosted a public meeting in San Luis Obispo on May 22, 2019, about its plan to reopen public lands to new oil and gas leasing, including fracking.

Hilary Dessouky lives in Santa Barbara and has two daughters.

The general counsel for Patagonia Outdoor Clothing & Gear, she is concerned about climate change, the environment, and the use of fossil fuels. She wants to live in a world where her daughters can drink clean water and wildlife are save from disaster.

She was one of about 150 people who turned out Thursday night to criticize the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to begin hydraulic fracturing to produce oil and gas on public land in Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Kern, Tulare, Madera and Kings counties.

It was the third of three BLM meetings on this issue this week. Officials heard comments in San Luis Obispo on Wednesday and Bakersfield on Tuesday.

“This ill-conceived, shortsighted proposal puts our businesses, our community, our neighborhoods at risk,” Dessouky said. “Fracking would wreak havoc on wildlife, including the endangered steelhead trout.”

The BLM held a hearing inside Santa Barbara City College’s Fe Bland Forum to take public testimony on the project, as part of the 174-page draft supplemental environmental impact statement.

Officials from the BLM did not speak substantively on the project; they only outlined the process for moving forward and allowed the many critics in the room to speak their piece.

The public comment period ends June 10, and a final EIS, intended to evaluate the environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing, will be public in September.

The areas analyzed include fracking’s impact on air and atmospheric values, water quality and quantity, seismicity, special status species, mineral resources and socioeconomics.

The federal government wants to end a 5-year moratorium and allow oil companies to lease and frack on federal land.

Fracking involves injecting a mixture of highly pressurized fluids and sand into rock or geologic formation to create and prop open fissures, or pathways, according to the BLM.

The openings produce fluids that can flow to the wellbore, or hole. When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, the small grains of sand remain in the fissures and hold the fractures open, allowing for higher production rates of the oil and gas, according to the EIS.

“Fracking is a diabolical distraction,” said Joan Hartmann, Third District Santa Barbara County supervisor. “We have to say no to fracking. We have to just say no to an administration trying to force this down our throats.”

A group of about 75 people held a rally outside the forum an hour before the event.

They carried signs and shouted slogans such as “Public lands for the people, not pollution.”

Candice Kim, climate campaign director for the Center for Biological Diversity, blasted the proposal.

“We’re in a climate crisis, and we are running out of time,” she said.

Wendy Motta, a spokeswoman from Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, said the Trump administration must respect Californians goal to be fossil free.

“We know fracking can pollute water,” she said. “We know fracking can cause earthquakes. We know fracking can cause greenhouse-gas emissions.”

About 122,000 acres are proposed for fracking in Santa Barbara County.

The spots include a 40-acre parcel near Carpinteria’s Cate School. Another parcel is in the headwaters of Nojoqui Creek, near Nojoqui falls. There are two more areas near Lake Cachuma.

“We are extremely concerned about the administrations plans to open more than 1 million acres of public lands and mineral estate in Central California for fossil fuel drilling and fracking,” said Graciela Cabello, director of youth and community outreach for Los Padres Forest Watch. “The plan targets some of the region’s most treasured landscapes, our water supplies, our favorite trails, our scenic views, our wildlife habitat, our tourism and outdoor recreation.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.
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