Concerned residents voiced their opposition to fracking along the Central Coast at a Bureau of Land Management hearing Thursday night.
“As a resident of Santa Barbara County and the mother of two young girls who are outside every day, I’m here to defend our public lands and water,” said Hilary Dessouky, general counsel for clothing company Patagonia, at a rally held an hour before the hearing at Santa Barbara City College’s Fé Bland Forum.
Close to 100 people came out to the West Campus to protest what they see as federal overreach for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry. Doctors, veterans, students, parents, community organizers, old and young crowded into a small theater to wait their turn to tell the BLM why they oppose leasing public land to oil-drilling industries.
Representatives for Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, were also present.
“If you want to get a complete sample or an accurate representative sample, you will find the people of this community resolutely do not want more production in their backyards, or much anywhere in the state,” said Brad Hudson, Sen. Jackson’s representative.
The meeting was held to hear public comments on the draft supplemental environmental impact statement, which is an analysis of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing associated with oil and gas development on public lands within the Bakersfield Field Office planning area. Those lands include Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.
The results of the survey are intended to inform consideration of whether to amend BLM’s existing 2014 resource management plan, which designates 400,000 surface area acres and 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate as available for oil and gas development.
The meeting Thursday was the last of three opportunities for people to make public statements on the draft EIS. The public meetings were a part of a 45-day public comment period that began on April 26 and ends June 10.
Protesters spent two hours laying out a wide range of arguments against fracking in the Central Coast. Many of the concerns were environmental.
“Oil drilling and fracking threatens our groundwater, pollutes our air, increases earthquake risk, and harms our climate,” said Robert Perry, a resident of Goleta.
Concerns were raised over using California’s limited water resources for fracking, the risk of water contamination, and harm to several endangered species in the area, including California condors. One Santa Barbara resident warned of harm to the local economy, arguing that the agriculture and tourism that Santa Barbara County relies on could be in jeopardy.
For Santa Barbara locals, memories of previous spills make them reluctant to trust that new drilling operations would not lead to catastrophe. Protesters recalled the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spilled in 1969 and 2015 off the coast of Santa Barbara County, and the drilling that contaminated Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in San Luis Obispo County.
“How dumb do you think we are?” asked one Santa Barbara County resident.
The consensus at the meeting was that the only oil rig that doesn’t spill is the one that’s never built. Since 2013, a moratorium on leasing public lands for drilling has been in place. A federal judge ruled that the BLM had not yet adequately considering fracking’s environmental impact. Protester after protester demanded that BLM make the moratorium permanent.
Many protesters took the opportunity to criticize recent action by the Trump administration, but BLM spokeswoman Serena Baker wanted to make clear that the environmental analysis does not open any new lands for oil and gas leasing.
“The areas that have been identified for oil and gas leasing are ones that were identified in the 2014 Resource Management Plan,” said Ms. Baker, “most of those areas that are open for oil and gas leasing have been open for decades.”
Ten percent of California’s oil comes from BLM managed public lands and about 5 percent of those leases use hydraulic fracturing, Ms. Baker said.
The decision to allow fracking is not up to the federal government, she said.
“It’s actually the state of California that permits hydraulic fracturing, even on federal leases,” said Ms. Baker. “They can choose not to issue a permit.”
Ms. Baker said that any oil and gas leasing on the 400,000 acres designated in the 2014 plan would be subject to heavy restriction and any proposed lease would be thoroughly reviewed by the state of California.
“There are several layers of environmental review that have to be done before new oil and gas would be permitted,” said Ms. Baker. “Just because an area is considered open for oil and gas development does not mean oil and gas development is likely to occur there.”
The majority of new oil and gas wells are located in or immediately adjacent to existing oil fields, Ms. Baker said.
The BLM encourages people to submit their comments on the EIS by June 10 at the website, https://go.usa.gov/xE3Nw. A final environmental impact statement will be released in the fall.