Community leaders gathered at the steps of the Santa Barbara Courthouse at noon on Thursday to rally against a federal drilling and fracking proposal that could include upwards of 122,000 acres of federal land and mineral estate in Santa Barbara County. The project is only now receiving public attention as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to notify the county of the proposed project, according to 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann. “It’s government-to-government courtesy to have some outreach when working in your backyard, and there wasn’t any.” She was notified about the proposal by Los Padres ForestWatch, a nonprofit conservation group.
ForestWatch learned about the proposed project less than two weeks before September 7, the cut off for the 30-day public-comment period regarding the project’s potential environmental impacts. Even with the late notice to community members and stakeholders, the BLM received more than 8,000 comments. Congressmember Salud Carbajal, Supervisor Hartman, and the ForestWatch requested an extension for the comment period; their requests were denied.
Speakers at the event opposed to the project are driven by environmental, economic, health, and safety concerns. One proposed spot is half a mile from the Cate School property and adjacent to a trail students and staff use and maintain. “There are significant health and safety concerns,” said Hallie Greene, the private school’s director of strategic planning.
Carbajal listed climate change-related challenges the country is already wrestling with, including, “sea level rise, drought, rising temperatures, storms, year-round fire season,” he said. Fracking and drilling only further contribute to the problem. “Opening up public lands is not the answer for our future,” said Carbajal. “We need to send a strong message that our natural resources are not for sale.”
Along with the concern expressed for the exploitation of natural resources, Hartmann is wary about the oil industry’s water use. Drilling a single well can require upward of eight million gallons of water, a significant amount considering the region is experiencing its worst drought in recorded history.
In Santa Barbara County the drilling and fracking plan includes the Santa Ynez Mountains, Purisima and Santa Rita hills, Tepusquet Canyon, Cuyama Valley foothills, all of Vandenberg Air Force Base, the San Rafael Wilderness, the Sisquoc River, Lake Cachuma, the land near Cate School, and lands near or adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest and Highway 154. “These public lands are home,” said 1st District Supervisor Das Williams. “They’re emblematic of our community.”
The BLM announced the initiation of the 30-day public scoping process regarding the preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement of the hydraulic fracturing project on August 8, 2018, via the Federal Register. The planning spans across eight counties in California, including Santa Barbara County, and cover 400,000 acres of public land and an additional 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estates, or split estates — privately owned lands with mineral estates that are publicly owned and managed by the federal government. Because of what ForestWatch Executive Director Jeffrey Kuyper refers to as “arbitrary deadlines,” recently imposed by the Trump administration, the BLM must produce the final Environmental Impact Report by August 2019. “They’re fast-tracking the proposal,” said Kuyper
The BLM has the discretion to request an extension but it is not clear whether they have, said Kuyper. County officials and ForestWatch are currently awaiting the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Draft, which they anticipate will be released early next year. Following the release of the EIS, the public will again be offered an opportunity to submit comments. Until then, Congressmember Carbajal has invited community members to comment through his office. “My staff will ensure they get delivered to the Bureau of Land Management,” he said.
Check out proposed lands here.