A Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Plan will allow fracking and oil drilling in eight counties in California, including San Luis Obispo County, according to a BLM news release

However, Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state attorney general and climate activist groups are fighting to prevent the expansion of fracking in California as a result of environmental and public health concerns.  

The BLM Bakersfield Field Office issued a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Dec.12, 2019 stating that “there are no adverse environmental impacts due to hydraulic fracturing that cannot be alleviated.” The decision opened up land within Montaña de Oro and the Carrizo Plain National Monument to oil drilling and fracking. 

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of retrieving oil from rocks by injecting water and sand at high pressure into the rock to crack it  open.

What is fracking and who will be affected

Along with San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura Counties are now available for fracking, as shown by a map included in a Forest Watch news release. According to the release, the area the final statement will allow for approximately 1.2 million acres of Federal minerals or roughly 400,000 surface acres about the size of Cal Poly’s main campus 300 times over to be drilled. 

The Bureau of Land Management opened land they manage in California for the first time since 2013. Bureau of Land Management | Courtesy

The impact statement, announced Dec. 12, came after a five year hold on fracking and six California bills passed by Newsom to prevent large scale fracking. 

The BLM has not held a lease sale since 2013 after a lawsuit was brought about by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Los Padres ForrestWatch against the Obama Administration for issuing oil leases in Monterey County without considering the environmental impacts, according to the center

According to the BLM, opening the lands to fracking is in-line with Executive Order 13783:  Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth and Secretarial Order 3349:  American Energy Independence. The two orders approved by the Trump Administration promote “environmentally responsible energy development, while creating jobs and providing economic opportunities for local communities.”

The BLM approximates the development of oil and gas on public lands will create approximately 3,500 jobs and more than $200 million in economic benefit annually, according to the BLM  news release. 

A 12.5 percent royalty is collected on every barrel of gas or oil mined on BLM land and the royalty is split between California and the United States Treasury. 

Despite the estimated economic impact, many California officials disagree with the environmental report.

A group of environmental organizations, Governor Newsom and Attorney General Becerra united to challenge the plan and filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Tuesday, Jan. 14, according to an attorney general news release

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California alleges that the environmental review of the project did not properly assess the negative impacts the project would have on the environment and communities in the area, according to the case filing.

“BLM’s decision to advance this half-baked proposal isn’t just misguided, it’s downright dangerous,” Becerra said in his release. “The risks to both people and the environment associated with fracking are simply too high to ignore.”

Fracking in SLO

Mayor Harmon, who is an advocate for sustainability and climate action, shared Becerra’s concern. 

“It’s just blatantly criminal to continue to extract antiquated fossil fuels while also putting our beautiful Montana de Oro Coast at risk,” Harmon said.

Harmon said she urges San Luis Obispo residents to do what they can to protect the area from fracking.

“I will be out there, arm-in-arm with probably thousands of community members, to keep extraction from happening,” Harmon said. 

San Luis Obispo climate activists have tried to ban oil fracking in the county in the past. In the 2018 Midterm Election, San Luis Obispo tried to ban the expansion of oil drilling with Measure G to no avail. 

The measure was prompted in part by the Price Canyon oil field proposal to expand the fields by 481 wells.

Correction: The Price Canyon Oil Field is near Arroyo Grande. The article has also been updated to correct which parties were involved in the 2013 lawsuit.

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