Some 150 environmental activists rallied Thursday, May 23, with signs and chants at Santa Barbara City College to protest the Trump Administration’s draft plan to open more than a million acres of Central California public land and mineral estate, including more than 110,000 acres in S.B. County, to oil drilling and fracking. Following the rally, activists spoke out against the plan at the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) public hearing at SBCC’s Fé Bland Forum, part of its 45-day public comment period lasting April 26-June 10.
“We’ve been coming to these meetings for a while because it’s the only way we can have input,” said Vivian Stanton, a tutor at the city college who participated in the rally with her partner and area engineer, Gary Kravetz. “We get notified from email lists for environmental groups like 350.org and try to make as many as we can.”
The draft plan comes after a federal judge issued a five-year moratorium in 2013 and ruled that the BLM was in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued oil leases in Monterey County without considering fracking’s environmental risks. If the new draft plan is approved, it would end the moratorium, allowing the BLM to lease California federal public land to oil companies in Santa Barbara, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Tulare, and Ventura counties.
Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joan Hartmann and representatives for Salud Carbajal, Hannah-Beth Jackson, and Monique Limón spoke out against the draft plan alongside the activists at the public hearing. Hartmann echoed the concerns of others about fracking’s potential to contaminate drinking water, harm wildlife, increase greenhouse-gas emissions, create oil spills, and more. “Fracking is a diabolical distraction,” Hartmann said, from “California’s goal to be oil-free and use 100 percent clean energy.”
Several public commenters denounced the BLM’s refusal to record their comments at the hearing. Serena Baker, the public affairs officer for the BLM Central California District, said the National Environmental Policy Act requires the BLM to accept written comments only.
“We aren’t proposing for or against fracking,” Baker told the Santa Barbara Independent on behalf of the BLM. “Through court order, we were told to do a more thorough analysis of it. It’s up to the state of California to permit it or not.”
Other notable protestors included Graciela Cabello, representing the Los Padres ForestWatch; Sandi Pierce, representing the Cate School in Carpinteria; Hilary Dessouky, representing the outdoor-clothing brand Patagonia; and Diego Cordero, vice chair of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation.
“It is our responsibility to take care of mother earth for future generations as well as for our non-human relatives,” Cordero said. “We Chumash will have our rights respected.” If approved, the plan would directly affect Chumash land and several areas of Santa Barbara County— totaling more than 110,000 acres— including Carpinteria (more specifically the Cate School), the Santa Ynez Mountains, Lake Cachuma, Lompoc, the Vandenberg Air Force Base, and more.
According to a 2015 report from the California Council on Science and Technology, California fracking happens at unusually shallow depths, posing a huge risk to underground drinking water supplies, with unusually high concentrations of toxic chemicals. This would remain true for fracking in Santa Barbara County.