By Robert Perry
For all of us following the onslaught of oil and gas proposals and attempts by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to open every acre of federal land in California to fracking, the sheer volume of battles can be daunting. I attended and spoke at the BLM public meeting at SBCC on May 23, but the event was largely symbolic as the BLM was not accepting (or even recording) public statements and claims that “From the BLM’s standpoint, we don’t believe there would be significant environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing.” But don’t despair! Some recent local and federal developments give us reason for hope:
Federal Appeals Court Holds BLM Illegally Approved Oil and Gas Drilling in Sacred Landscape. A federal appeals court on May 7 held that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) illegally approved oil and gas drilling and fracking in the Greater Chaco region of New Mexico, a landscape sacred to Tribes throughout the American Southwest and home to the Navajo Nation. The suit targeted BLM’s failure to account for the cumulative, region-wide impacts of fracking, including impacts to water supplies, community health, air quality, climate, and cultural integrity of the landscape. All told, the court reversed the approval of 25 drilling permits and the ruling has implications for hundreds of drilling permits that are approved or currently under consideration. Needless to say, this decision establishes a strong precedent for challenging the approval of BLM leases in California by requiring a robust analysis of cumulative impacts from existing oil and gas permits in the region.
EDC Declares Orcutt Oilfields Contaminated Drinking Water Wells. The Environmental Defense Council (EDC) is to be congratulated for dropping a bomb on ERG’s oil and gas proposal. In its submission, the EDC presented compelling evidence regarding numerous ERG violations, and features a presentation by the U.S. Geological Survey to California water boards that reveals groundwater contamination in and around the Orcutt oilfield. Based on this information, the EDC has asked Planning Commission staff to prepare a notice of denial as part of EDC’s efforts on behalf of Los Padres Sierra Club and Santa Barbara County Action Network to defeat ERG’s attempted expansion. Although no motions have been made to date, the hearing has been postponed to August 14, giving more time to gather more evidence for denial of ERG’s proposal.
So take heart and please submit written comments to the BLM by June 10th. Los Padres Forest Watch has an excellent portal for submitting a generic comment, and if you are passionate on the issue, you can submit comments directly to the BLM, using excellent talking points from the Center for Biological Diversity.