Environment

New oil drilling in Carrizo Plain blocked because of climate change — at least for now

Fly over the wildflower super bloom on Shell Creek Road

Soar above the super bloom of wildflowers along Shell Creek Road near Highway 58 in northern San Luis Obispo County, California, as weekend visitors explore the trails that meander through the sea of colors.
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Soar above the super bloom of wildflowers along Shell Creek Road near Highway 58 in northern San Luis Obispo County, California, as weekend visitors explore the trails that meander through the sea of colors.

Plans to drill a new oil well in the Carizzo Plain National Monument for the first time since the monument was established in 2001 have been halted — a victory for conservation groups that won an administrative appeal.

The state office of the Bureau of Land Management on Friday overturned a local Bakersfield Field Office decision to approve the well and small pipeline. Deputy state director of the Division of Energy and Minerals stayed the decision and remanded the environmental assessment.

The reason? State BLM says the regional office failed to fully consider effects on the climate and potential harm to California condors and other wildlife, issues raised on administrative appeal by the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch.

The proposed oil well was on a pad that had been slated for restoration at the base of the Caliente Mountains along the western boundary of the national monument. The project was proposed in 2012 by E&B Natural Resources Management Corp., an independent oil and gas company based in Bakersfield. Plans were approved in March.

The state decision says that Bakersfield BLM administrators have “not adequately and completely considered the project’s component GHG emissions associated with the well and the effects on climate,” says the decision signed by James Scrivner.

Specifically, he wrote that the environmental review discussed greenhouse gas emissions, climate warming and air quality impacts on a global scale, but not on the San Luis Obispo and Kern county environments.

“Climate impacts are not distributed evenly over the globe and local capacities to deal with the impacts can differ significantly among regions,” the decision says.

Further, it says efforts to predict warming impacts “involve probabilistic analysis that have the potential to produce uncertain results when considered globally.”

The decision can be appealed, and the state office recommended remedies to the problems by conducting another environmental review and initiating consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services for all federally listed endangered species.

Even so, environmentalists claim victory.

“We’re thrilled that the California BLM now recognizes that new oil wells can’t be allowed in Carrizo Plain without analysis of their contribution to the climate crisis,” said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency’s earlier decision would’ve undermined the conservation purpose of this spectacular national monument and threatened rare wildlife like the California condor.”

The location itself is special, said ForestsWatch executive director Jeff Kuyper.

“The Carrizo Plain National Monument is one of California’s iconic landscapes and we’re relieved that the BLM will reconsider its decision to allow a new oil well and pipeline on this treasured landscape,” he said.

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