U.S. Bureau of Land Management

Protesters hold signs saying, “No new leases on public lands,” at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s public hearing on oil-leasing in Santa Barbara County held at Santa Barbara City College on May 23.

Approximately 100 protestors rallied in Santa Barbara on May 23 to oppose federal plans to allow oil-leasing—drilling and fracking—on over one million acres of public lands in California’s Central Coast. The rally preceded the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) public hearing on the plan’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS).

The hearing comes on the heels of the BLM’s proposal (made public at the end of April) to open 1,011,470 acres of public land and federal mineral estate in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties to fossil fuel extraction. The plan would end a five-year-old state moratorium on leasing federal public land to oil companies. No new leases have been issued by the BLM in California since 2013, when a federal judge first ruled that the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by issuing oil leases in Monterey County without considering the environmental dangers of fracking—an oil-extraction process that blasts chemicals mixed with water underground to crack rocks. According to the BLM, about 90 percent of new oil and gas wells on public lands are fracked.

Given the environmental impact of fracking, the oil-extraction process has garnered intense scrutiny. A 2015 report from the California Council on Science and Technology concluded that fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, dangerously close to underground drinking water supplies and with unusually high concentrations of toxic chemicals. The public lands at stake encompass “numerous groundwater systems that contribute to the annual water supply used by neighboring areas for agricultural and urban purposes,” a federal judge noted in 2016, according to a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity.

At the May 23 rally, environmental advocates, elected officials and school and business leaders stirred the crowd with emotional calls to oppose oil-drilling and fracking and to protect water quality and local biodiversity. “The plan targets some of our region’s most treasured landscapes, our water supplies, our favorite trails, our scenic views, our wildlife habitat, our tourism and outdoor recreation economy and the communities in which we live and work,” said Gabriela Cabello, director of youth and community engagement at Los Padres ForestWatch. “These lands are the heart and soul of the Central Coast, and one of the main reasons why so many of us call this place home. We cannot let the administration ruin these special places.”

Sandi Pierce of Cate School expressed concern about the process the federal administration has used to identify, evaluate and communicate the impacts of the proposed oil drilling/fracking in Santa Barbara County, including a proposed site directly behind the school’s campus. “We are deeply concerned about the negative impacts on our school community, and the larger Carpinteria community, from this proposed activity,” said Pierce.

Representatives from Patagonia, Food & Water Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity and the offices of Assemblymember Monique Limón and Congressman Salud Carbajal called for an end to the proposed oil-leasing, denouncing the Trump administration and BLM’s draft plan. Supervisor Joan Hartmann directed her words to the Trump administration, stating that, “Fracking is a diabolical distraction” that is “…turning our attention away from the real solutions for a clean energy future.” Hartmann reiterated, “We have to just say ‘no’ to fracking. We have to just say ‘no’ to an administration that is trying to force this down our throat.”  

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