The Bureau of Land Management on Thursday finalized a study on the environmental and public health impacts of fracking, which could allow fossil-fuel extraction on public lands across eight counties — including some 122,000 acres in Santa Barbara County.
The finalization of the study, which included Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties, is the final step in completing a Resource Management Plan that would open more than 1 million acres of land throughout the state to new oil drilling and fracking.
Thursday’s action ends a five-year moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands in California.
Conservation groups say the plan was “fast-tracked” by the BLM to adhere to an executive order issued by the Trump administration.
The study found that fracking poses no significant impacts and recommended no changes to plan that allows drilling and fracking on federal lands, including: in and adjacent to national forests, parks and monuments; state, county and city parks and beaches; state and federal wildlife refuges and ecological reserves; rivers and reservoirs; school campuses; segments of the Pacifica Crest Trail; and other areas.
“If the BLM didn’t find impacts from oil drilling and fracking next to schools, under rivers and reservoirs, and in habitat that harbors endangered animals, it’s because they didn’t look,” ForestWatch Executive Director Jeff Kuyper said in a statement. “The BLM has wasted taxpayers’ money and will cause irreparable damage with this sham study that places our treasured landscapes and communities at great risk.”
According to Los Padres ForestWatch, areas in the county that could be subject to drilling or fracking include: a 40-acre parcel within 2,000 feet of Cate School; two parcels along the Santa Ynez Mountains, 217 acres on the north of Bald Mountain and 120 in the headwaters of Nojoqui Creek near Nojoqui Falls County Park; two parcels, totaling 20 acres, near Lake Cachuma along State Route 154; a 40-acre parcel on the north side of Lake Cachuma; 1,766 acres near the Sisquoc River and adjacent to the San Rafael Wilderness; 1,793 acres in Tepesquet Canyon; 13,375 acres in the Cuyama Valley; four parcels totaling 160 acres between Los Alamos and Lompoc in the Purisima Hills; 102,650 acres near Vandenberg Air Force Base; 3,158 acres within the city of Lompoc; the 42-acre Ken Adam Park near Allan Hancock College; and portions of Jalama Beach County Park.
In a statement issued Thursday, the BLM said no new oil leases have been issued and no permits to drill have been approved with the finalization of the analysis.
“If proposed, new leases and/or requests for permits to drill and their potential impacts would be addressed at the side or project-specific level in a subsequent tiered environmental analysis,” the statement reads.
The BLM held three public meetings from April to June and received approximately 16,000 comments, of which 118 comments were considered “unique and substantive,” officials said.
Santa Barbara County previously adopted a resolution to oppose allowing oil drilling and fracking that would threaten public resources and current land use.
On Monday, the Carpinteria City Council unanimously adopted a similar resolution. More than 100 Carpinteria residents sent letters urging the council to support the resolution. The council did not receive any letters opposed to the resolution.
Thursday’s announcement follows the Trump administration’s recent decision to allow fracking on 725,600 acres across 11 California counties. Conservation groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco to challenge the decision.
“Trump’s plan to hand over a million acres in California to the oil industry is a despicable attack on our state’s future,” Claire Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Sacrificing these public lands to dirty drilling and fracking will worsen the climate crisis and expose California’s people and wildlife to toxic pollution. We’ll do everything possible to stop this.”
Conservation groups say there is no formal appeal or public review process for Thursday’s BLM’s decision. ForestWatch is working with its partners to evaluate next steps, which could result in further litigation.