In a move that could have been worse, the Los Padres Forest supervisor opened up 52,000 acres of the national forest to gas and oil leasing.
Gloria Brown said her decision, which came after 10 years of study and thousands of public comments, prohibits leasing on 715,000 acres that were examined for possible drilling. She explained that the surface of 48,000 acres in the forest won't be disturbed by more oil activities - any drilling will have to begin from areas where surface activity is already permitted.
Brown's decision also puts 485,000 acres of roadless areas off-limits to drilling; 38,000 roadless acres will be open to new drilling leases but with the "no surface occupancy" stipulation.
Most of the areas opened to leasing are near existing oil operations bordering Cuyama and the Sespe Oil Fields.
Environmental groups and conservationists called the protection of roadless areas a minor victory and are considering whether to appeal the forest supervisor's decision. The groups, many of which belong the Coalition to Save Los Padres, say the added drilling would be too near wilderness areas and endangered-species habitats.
Congresswoman Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, introduced a bill on July 13 that would permanently ban drilling in the Los Padres forest.