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Federal agency studies environmental impacts of fracking on Central Coast lands

Greta Mart/KCBX
Morro Rock, an icon of the Central Coast, is included on the BLM's 2014 Bakersfield Field Office RMP Planning Area.

Some Central Coast residents and environmental groups are alarmed over a current federal study, saying it could open up iconic local places like Morro Rock and Montana de Oro State Park to hydraulic fracking.

The Bureau of Land Management—or BLM—is currently looking at the environmental impacts of opening up more federal lands to fracking. Those lands include 1.6 million acres across San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and six other central California counties.

The study is the start of a process the BLM will use to specifically determine whether it should allow hydraulic fracturing technology in oil and gas development on new leases within the Bakersfield Field Office’s Resource Management Plan. That’s the policy document the BLM adheres to manage land uses like livestock grazing, recreation, and oil and gas leasing. In 2015—predating the Trump Administration—local environmental groups sued the BLM, saying it didn’t properly evaluate the impacts of fracking leases. A federal district court agreed and ordered the BLM to go back and study it.

Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Serena Baker said under the current federal plan, for all intents and purposes, the acreage now under review is already open to possible leasing, and that the BLM is likely not going to approve new leases in areas not already under development for oil and gas production. Baker also pointed out that should a lease for a particular parcel be sold, there would be two more public review processes before any fracking would begin.

Jeff Kuyper is with the Los Padres Forest Watch, one of the groups that sued the BLM in 2015 to force a specific environmental study of fracking. Kuyper said the BLM should take a parcel-by-parcel analysis of where oil and gas leases should be allowed.

“The BLM is really focusing on areas that are completely inappropriate for drilling and fracking,” Kuyper said. “I think the BLM hasn't taken a careful look at these parcels and the public does have an opportunity right now to point these issues out and say, “hey, BLM, you're looking it lands that we hold dearly here on the Central Coast and that are completely inappropriate from environmental protection as well as from public health and safety standpoint.’”

The 30-day public comment period on the BLM’s scoping study ends on Friday, September 7.

Public comments should be emailed to blm_ca_bkfo_oil_gas_update@blm.gov.

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