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Environmental groups sue BLM over oil, gas leasing plan
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Environmental groups sue BLM over oil, gas leasing plan

A coalition of eight conservation and environmental organizations filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Trump administration over its plan to open up 1.2 million acres of Central California public lands to oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles charges that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management violated federal law in its decision to allow drilling and fracking in eight California counties.

It names the BLM, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and BLM California State Director Karen Mouritsen as defendants.

Most of the land the BLM plans to open for oil leasing is in Kern, Kings, Fresno, Madera and Tulare counties, but Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties are also included in the plan.

The lawsuit claims the BLM failed to consider the negative impact hydraulic fracturing — commonly referred to as fracking — could have on public health and recreation, the climate, groundwater and air quality.

“It’s the BLM’s responsibility not to contribute to public health issues,” said Rebecca August, director of advocacy for ForestWatch. “The BLM is charged with protecting public health. By opening new land to oil drilling and fracking, they’re not doing that.”

A spokeswoman for the BLM said the agency had received a copy of the lawsuit and would be reviewing it.

“The BLM’s supplemental analysis on hydraulic fracturing did not make any new public lands or federal minerals available to oil and gas development, nor did it issue any new leases or approve any permits to drill,” said Serena Baker, public information officer for the BLM’s Bakersfield Field Office.

“If proposed, those actions and the potential impacts would be addressed at the site or project-specific level in subsequent tiered environmental analysis,” Baker said.

“Most all of the acreage available within the Bakersfield Field Office jurisdiction for oil and gas development has been available for more than 30 years,” she added.

August said several years ago the BLM lost a lawsuit filed over the same plan for the same areas, was ordered to conduct a more thorough environmental assessment but failed to adequately address the issues.

“They made some assumptions we didn’t agree with,” August said. “They didn’t look at these individual places, especially the sensitive ones. … We want them to really look at the places [they’re considering] for oil development and fracking, to do a real assessment.”

County and BLM officials have said it’s unlikely any fracking would take place in Santa Barbara County, because the geological formations where oil reserves are located here are not conducive to using that method for extracting oil.

“In Santa Barbara County, there aren’t any areas where hydraulic fracking is occurring or anticipated for consideration in the future,” Baker said in November when the plan was released.

But the groups that filed the suit noted sites in all three coastal counties that are targeted for oil leases are located near state parks and beaches, national forests and wildlife refuges that are home to threatened and endangered animals, including California condors.

North County sites include 1,793 acres in Tepusquet Canyon, 217 acres on the north face of Bald Mountain and 120 acres near the headwaters of Nojoqui Creek in the Santa Ynez Mountains, parcels totaling 60 acres on the north and south sides of Cachuma Lake and nearly all 102,650 acres of Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Several parcels in the Purisima Hills between Los Alamos and Lompoc include 160 acres owned by Rancho Santa Rita Preserve, 3,158 acres are located within and around Lompoc city limits, and the 42-acre Ken Adam Park and nearby Hancock College Lompoc Valley Center are also on the list.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the BLM violated the National Evironmental Protection Act when it approved its supplemental environmental impact statement, set aside the SEIS, block the BLM from proceeding with any oil and gas leasing and activities pursuant to the agency’s 2014 resource management plan, and retain jurisdiction until BLM remedies the violations of law.

The plaintiffs are also seeking reimbursement of attorney fees and other costs of litigation.

In addition to Los Padres ForestWatch, the lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Central California Environmental Justice Network, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Patagonia Works, the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society.

In October, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution opposing the BLM plan on a 3-1-1 vote, with supervisors Das Williams, Gregg Hart and Joan Hartmann supporting it, Peter Adam opposing it and Steve Lavagnino abstaining.

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News Editor

Mike Hodgson is news editor at the Santa Ynez Valley News, where he writes about local government, special events and the people who live in the Valley. He has been a photographer, writer, news editor and managing editor at weekly newspapers since 1972

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