Oil and Gas Leases

Threatening many central counties with risky extractive activities

UPDATE DEC 2020: As was expected, the Department of Interior opened up many new federal public lands across the western states to new oil and gas leasing in 2020. Here in California, several sales of oil and gas leases took place in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Bakersfield Field Office. Lawsuits have been filed to attempt to overturn those lease sales. Recently, BLM approved what would be the first new oil well and pipeline within the Carrizo Plain National Monument since it was established in 2001. The proposed well site is located at the base of the Caliente Mountains, inside the western boundary of the National Monument. It is a mere one-fourth of a mile from a proposed wilderness area in Representative Salud Carbajal’s Central Coast Heritage Protection Act. A lawsuit that seeks to reverse this approval has been filed; it also seeks to secure the fate of other wells that have been dormant for decades that the BLM identified for possible removal in 2013.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is undoubtedly rushing to finalize its revisions to the U.S. Forest Service’s regulations governing federal oil and gas resources on National Forest System lands before the end of the Trump administration. The proposed rule would cut the public out of the process used to decide whether and which lands will be opened to oil and gas drilling. It would also give excessive leeway to companies that do not follow U.S. Forest Service laws and weaken that agency’s ability to protect public land from development and degradation. The public comment period on those proposed changes ended November 2, 2020. While these changes would primarily affect forests in other western states where oil and gas development is more common, in California it would affect the Los Padres National Forest, home to endangered species such as the California condor, San Joaquin kit fox, and least Bell’s vireo and the ancestral lands and traditional territories of the Chumash, Kuyam, Barbareño, and Yokut people.


ORIGINAL POST: In 2013, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club challenged the issuance of oil and gas leases in Monterey and Fresno Counties arguing that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had not sufficiently considered the risks of fracking which constitutes the technique used on 90% of new wells, according to the BLM. The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and the BLM was forced to retract the leases and suspend future leases for five years.

Earlier this year, with the suspension complete, the Trump administration issued final plans for oil and gas leases out of two BLM offices covering more than 1 million acres of federal land on the Central Coast and Central Valley. CalWild along with many other groups mobilized public comments and turned out in droves at public meetings in Bakersfield and San Luis Obispo (SLO).

For years many local communities, concerned about the impacts to health and the environment, have worked to ban new oil and drilling in their cities and counties. These jurisdictions along with many residents are worried about the impacts on air quality, additional earthquakes, climate change, and tainted groundwater.

In 2016, Monterey County voters passed Measure Z banning fracking, new oil and gas wells and new waste-injection wells. Also that year, San Benito and Alameda Counties passed ballot measures banning fracking. Santa Cruz County has passed an ordinance banning fracking and all other oil and gas development, while a similar measure in San Luis Obispo County lost in 2018.

One of the areas that could have new leases is around the Carrizo Plain National Monument known for its surreal flower blooms and a key part of our public lands bill on the central coast. Our central coast Congressional champion Representative Salud Carbajal submitted a statement at the SLO event, “The BLM’s plan stands in stark contrast with California’s energy goals. Fracking also presents an unacceptable risk to California’s precious groundwater resources.”

In direct response to the new federal order, the California legislature passed and the Governor signed AB 342 in October. This bill would bar California agencies from entering into a lease authorizing new construction of oil- and gas-related infrastructure on federally protected lands.

Despite these protests and a clear consensus on California and Californians’ desire to block all new oil drilling, BLM approved an oil and gas exploration plan. During the protest period BLM received over 400 objections but ruled none of them valid. According to this decision, over 700,000 acres of public land and underground minerals can be leased in Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Merced, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Stanislaus Counties. The BLM projects that the vast majority of the 37 new wells will be within Fresno, Monterey and San Benito counties.

CalWild and our partners will continue to support the legal efforts to challenge this plan and monitor the individual leases as they are proposed to make sure they don’t impact any wild places in the state.