The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved a 6-year-old application for new oil drilling on the Carrizo Plain National Monument last month, prompting an appeal by environmental organizations claiming the federal agency skirted its environmental review obligations.
The drilling proposed by E&B Natural Resources, a Bakersfield-based energy company, is set within an existing oil lease and well pad located at the southwestern edge of the monument in the Russell Ranch Oil Field. The current well on the site hasn't produced since 1949, according to the BLM.
- File Photo By Camillia Lanham
- DRILLING ON A MONUMENT Environmental organizations are appealing the Bureau of Land Management's approval of a new oil well on the Carrizo Plain National Monument.
E&B's plan to drill a new well on the pad and possibly replace an aging pipeline received approval by the BLM on March 16.
"They're reusing the same footprint, and that was the goal from the get-go," said Gabe Garcia, the field manager at the BLM's Central California office in Bakersfield.
But environmental advocates are blasting the BLM's approval as coming without proper review of the oil well's impacts on endangered species and monument aesthetics.
Jeff Kuyper, director of the nonprofit Los Padres ForestWatch, which filed an appeal of the decision jointly with the Center for Biological Diversity on April 18, told New Times the oil project could impact the San Joaquin kit fox, giant kangaroo rat, and California condor populations, as well as rare plants like the Kern mallow. The operation would also be within view of visitors of the monument, the appeal states.
"The drilling process itself is intensive," Kuyper said. "But even when the well is drilled and all the equipment, vehicles, and workers leave, it still requires visits, traffic, and maintenance. All those things can have an impact."
Kuyper said the BLM violated the Carrizo Plain's management plan by declining to consult with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife on the application.
"The BLM and oil industry agreed there'd be higher standards involved before oil drilling is allowed inside the boundaries of the national monument," Kuyper said.
Garcia said the BLM declined to consult with Fish and Wildlife because their cultural and biological surveys of the site found no presence of endangered species or plants.
"It didn't meet our thresholds for consultation," he said.
E&B first filed the oil well application with the BLM in 2012. Then in 2016, the company asked to abandon (to fill with cement) the existing well on the pad as well as another well in the oil field, Garcia said. He said that E&B's request for abandonment was misreported as having been a request to "restore" the oil pad, which would've meant restoring the entire site back to its natural state.
"There's a bit of confusion on that," Garcia said.
But Kuyper said the company's abandonment application and the years-long delay by the BLM indicated to the public that the new oil project had been tabled.
"At that point we and rest of the public thought, 'Great, the drilling proposal is off the table,'" Kuyper said. "For whatever reason, the oil company had a change of heart, and BLM went along with it."
The state director of the BLM is charged with reviewing the appeal, Kuyper said.
According to a New Times count in 2017, the Carrizo Plain National Monument is home to 13 active oil wells, which were grandfathered in when the Clinton administration created the monument in 2001.
E&B Natural Resources did not respond to a request for comment by press time. According to its website, the company produces 11,500 barrels of oil per day from 25-plus oil and gas fields in California, Louisiana, Kansas, and Wyoming. Δ