The Bakersfield Californian’s Jan. 15 story (“'Overwhelming' opposition to oil activity may present challenge to local industry”) about public opposition to a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposal to open over one million acres of federal land and mineral estate to new oil drilling and fracking demonstrates just how unpopular the proposal is in Kern County and throughout central California.
The BLM received an overwhelming 8,400 comments from the public during a short 30-day comment period in August. Nearly all were opposed to the plan, with a common concern about the impact new drilling and fracking will have on landscapes that define our region and boost our local economies with tourism dollars.
Almost 5,000 acres of land within one mile of Sequoia National Park are listed as “open” for fossil fuel leasing under the BLM’s proposal. This would be new drilling and fracking on federal land along the park’s boundary — an area where there’s currently no oil development. The plan could also open over 2,000 acres near the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park.
The agency’s plan would allow oil and gas leasing of a combined 44 square miles of federal land along the boundaries of the Carrizo Plain and Giant Sequoia National Monuments near Bakersfield. Both monuments only recently survived an attempt by the Trump administration to shrink or eliminate them.
Over 240 square miles of land along the boundaries of four national forests — Sequoia, Sierra, Inyo and Los Padres — would be open to leasing as well. Many of these areas are directly adjacent to protected wilderness areas. To top that off, at least nine parcels of land overlapping the world-famous Pacific Crest Trail would also be open to oil and gas development under the proposal.
State-owned lands and even private preserves are at risk of new fossil fuel development under the administration’s proposal, too. More than 25 square miles along the boundaries of state park system lands such as Fort Tejon State Park, Colonel Allensworth and Tomo-Kahni State Historic Parks, and Onyx Ranch and Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Areas could be opened to leasing if the plan is approved. Add another 50 square miles of federally owned mineral estate below private preserves like Audubon Kern River Preserve, Tejon Ranch and Wind Wolves Preserve to the list as well. And yes, the federal government can lease mineral rights under private land, and it’s difficult for landowners to stop oil companies from drilling on their land once the leases are issued.
The plan would also open over 70 square miles of land in and around national wildlife refuges and state ecological reserves to leasing, jeopardizing important habitat for many threatened, endangered and rare plants and animals. Areas such as Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge and the Bakersfield Cactus, Canebrake and Carrizo Plains Ecological Reserve are at risk of being opened to drilling and fracking.
All of us who appreciate the value of our region’s parks, forests, wildlife refuges and nature preserves should be outraged at the prospect of drilling in these areas. These lands have been set aside for our families to explore and enjoy, not for the oil industry to exploit for profit.
The plan could even threaten Bakersfield’s water supply. Approximately 87 square miles surrounding Lake Isabella — one of the city’s primary sources of drinking water — would be open to drilling and fracking leases under the plan. Not only would this have major implications for Bakersfield residents, much of the leasing in the Lake Isabella area would be in and around neighborhoods.
Kern County’s economy isn’t solely propped up by oil and agriculture. As the state’s third-largest county, it contains large swaths of public land that are crucial for the region’s tourism industry. As The Bakersfield Californian has previously reported, visitors to the county spend over $1.3 billion per year while traveling here, supporting nearly 17,000 jobs. Those numbers could very well take a hit if the county’s premier destinations become peppered with new oil and gas wells.
With our parks, forests, wildlife refuges, nature preserves, water supplies and neighborhoods at stake, it’s no surprise that the BLM’s drilling and fracking plan is a major concern for residents throughout the region. One thing’s certain: only our collective voices can change how it moves forward.
Bryant Baker is the Conservation Director for Los Padres ForestWatch. Visit LPFW.org/fracking for more information about this proposal.