Tens of thousands of public comments have already been submitted in response to the Trump Administration’s court-ordered study on the impacts of fossil fuel drilling and fracking across more than one million acres of federal land and mineral estate. The study covers nine central California counties, from Monterey County in the north to Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in the south, and from the coast inland to the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range.
The 45-day public comment period ends on June 10. In its draft study of the environmental impacts of hydrologic fracturing, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed no changes to its 2015 plan to allow new oil drilling and fracking in and adjacent to national forests, parks and monuments, state, county and city parks, beaches, wildlife refuges, rivers, reservoirs, schools and other areas especially sensitive to environmental and health impacts. Even parcels along the Pacific Crest Trail remain in the plan.
Over 150 people attended each of the three meetings last month, in Bakersfield, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, hosted by the BLM as part of the public comment period associated with the release of the draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Amid expressed concerns about water, schools and health impacts like asthma, residents speaking at the meetings expressed outrage at the Bureau of Land Management’s refusal to record their comments and to add them to the project record, according to a release by Los Padres Forest Watch. Moreover, the release noted that the BLM has refused to respond to a unanimous request by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to hold a public hearing in Ventura County. A similar request by Congresswoman Julia Brownley was ignored.
“The BLM is fast-tracking this process at the expense of public participation,” said Rebecca August of Los Padres ForestWatch, “and is refusing to make any changes to its plan to address the known environmental and public health impacts of fossil fuel drilling and fracking on public lands.”
According to LPFW, the BLM considered just 211 of over 8,400 letters submitted during last year’s scoping period, claiming that 97.5 percent of public comment, which was overwhelmingly opposed to the proposal, was not what it deemed substantive and original. The DEIS is subject to new guidelines, imposed by the Trump administration, which restrict the length of the study to no more than one year and 150 pages, regardless of the project’s scope and complexity. Environmental impact studies are critical to understanding how a project might impact water, air, soils, wildlife, archeological resources, other land uses and public health. They also are meant to identify and explore project alternatives that may be more suitable to a particular site, and often take years to develop.
“This is the public’s last chance to weigh in on this misguided proposal that threatens our region’s air, water, wildlife and favorite outdoor recreation destinations,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch. “The fate of our region’s iconic landscapes is at stake, and we need residents throughout the region to send a message loud and clear that our public lands belong to the people, not the oil industry.”
The BLM is accepting comments on its study of drilling and fracking until June 10. This is the only comment period on the agency’s study until a decision is issued, which is expected in September. The public can submit comments to BLM via an online portal at LPFW.org/fracking or directly through the BLM’s website.
According to BLM data, the plan will open several key parcels in Santa Barbara County to drilling and fracking, including:
Carpinteria – a 40-acre parcel within 2,000 feet of Cate School and directly adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest. This is a privately-owned parcel with federally-owned subsurface mineral rights.
Santa Ynez Mountains – Two BLM parcels along the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains. One (217 acres) is on the north face of Bald Mountain. The other (120 acres) is in the headwaters of Nojoqui Creek near Nojoqui Falls County Park. Both are directly adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest.
Scenic Highway 154 – Two small Bureau of Reclamation parcels (20 acres total) near Lake Cachuma along Highway 154, a California Scenic Highway.
Lake Cachuma – A 40-acre Bureau of Reclamation parcel on the north side of Lake Cachuma near Happy Canyon Road, adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest.
Sisquoc River & San Rafael Wilderness – Several parcels totaling 1,766 acres inside the national forest boundary near the Sisquoc River, including one parcel adjacent to the San Rafael Wilderness and another parcel straddling the Sisquoc River, which is critical habitat for endangered steelhead.
Tepusquet Canyon – several BLM parcels totaling 1,793 acres in a rural, remote canyon east of Santa Maria. One of the largest parcels straddles Colson Canyon Road, one of the few gateways into the Los Padres National Forest in northern Santa Barbara County.
Cuyama Valley Foothills – 13,375 acres along the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains in the Cuyama Valley. Most of these parcels are adjacent to national forest lands proposed for wilderness protection under the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act introduced in the House and Senate earlier this year. Two areas to be opened to drilling and fracking are major gateways into the Los Padres National Forest—Santa Barbara Canyon and Bates Canyon. Both have publicly-accessible trailheads and roads leading into the Los Padres National Forest.
Purisima Hills – several parcels between Los Alamos and Lompoc in the Purisima Hills, including four parcels totaling 160 acres owned by the Rancho Santa Rita Preserve, part of the state- and federally-approved La Purisima Conservation Bank. The 853-acre bank, the first of its kind in Santa Barbara County, provides a mechanism for developers and agencies to mitigate their impacts by purchasing mitigation credits at the property. The conservation bank contains a healthy population of endangered California tiger salamanders.
Vandenberg Air Force Base – 102,650 acres, nearly the entire base, is slated as “open” for drilling.
For more information, visit LPFW.org/fracking.