Fracking Near the Forest

Watchdog Group Discovers 351 Wells Fracked in Sespe Oil Fields

A report made public this week details decades’ worth of fracking on oil leases near Los Padres National Forest. The info, complied over the past year by Los Padres ForestWatch, which scoured thousands of pages of state and federal documents, identifies at least 351 wells in the Sespe Oil Fields (located north of Fillmore in Ventura County and immediately adjacent to Los Padres boundaries) that have been been fracked between the mid 1960s and this July.

Critics say the increasingly controversial though long-used oil extraction technique damages watersheds, pollutes underground water supplies, and negatively impacts human health. Noting the oil fields’ proximity to Los Padres as well as wilderness areas like Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge and the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, Jeff Kuyper, ForestWatch’s executive director, explained on Tuesday, “There is so much secrecy around fracking, we just wanted to get as much info as we could about it happening in or around [Los Padres] and get word out so people are aware.”

Of course, as most oil industry experts are quick to point out, fracking — basically injecting a fluid mixture of chemicals and water down a well to better extract hard-to-reach oil reserves — is nothing new and entirely legal. However, concern has recently skyrocketed over the many anecdotal impacts the process has on the environment and the fact that particulars of it, such as the ingredient list of the injections and what happens with the fluid once it is done being used, are virtually unregulated by any state or federal oversight agency.

It is just these types of worries, said Kuyper, that prompted him and his watchdog group to file their initial Freedom of Information Act request with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency that oversees oil operations on federal land, and then follow up with California’s department of oil and gas resources, the folks who regulate all actual in-well activities in the state. It should be noted, however, that of the seven instances of fracking that ForestWatch uncovered from the past two years, all were done on private leases adjacent to the National Forest owned by Texas’s Seneca Resources Group.

Los Padres National Forest spokesperson Andrew Madsen responded to the report on Tuesday afternoon by explaining, via email, that fracking has been a common thing in the Sespe oil fields for more than five decades and that “The Los Padres isn’t aware of any detrimental effects to resources resulting from oil extraction.”

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