A Trump era drilling approval on the Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County has expired and an agreement has been reached to permanently close eleven existing wells on the monument. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will be responsible for ensuring the plugging of the wells and the restoration of the sites to natural conditions.
The saga over the idle oil wells began in 2020, when a lawsuit was filed after the BLM approved plans from E&B Natural Resources to operate a new well and pipeline in the monument—a first since the monument was established in 2001.
“National monuments are not places that should have oil drilled,” Ileene Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued the bureau, told LAMag.
The plaintiffs, Los Padres ForestWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity, claimed in a press release that “the proposed fossil fuel extraction would harm threatened and endangered wildlife and mar scenic views, violating the monument’s resource-management plan, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act”—a notion that the BLM did not agree with at the time.
“Our analysis shows that this new well poses no undue health or safety concerns, has no significant impacts to the environment and is consistent with management directives for the Carrizo Plain National Monument,” BLM representative, Serena Baker, had told the Los Angeles Times in the month following the approval. “America’s free markets will help determine if energy development on public lands is feasible.”
The lawsuit also homed in on an order the BLM had issued in 2013 that twelve idle wells—owned by E&B—had to begin producing or be plugged and abandoned. The plaintiffs claimed that when the wells weren’t returned to production, BLM did not fulfill the requirements to plug them in a timely manner.
The approved oil well and pipeline, however, never came to fruition and last May, with E&B failing to seek renewal, the approval officially expired, marking yet another reversal of Trump era drilling permissions on public land.
With this expiration, the agreement between the two advocacy groups and BLM was filed and the lawsuit was dismissed. BLM will have five years to ensure the wells are properly abandoned following an environmental assessment and a 30-day public comment period. The agreement states that E&B is “committed to plugging and abandoning” the eleven wells. One of the twelve wells is now an active water injection well and will not be removed.
“This agreement forges a new era for the Carrizo Plain National Monument and begins what we hope will be a complete phase-out of oil drilling in this protected area,” Los Padres ForestWatch Executive Director Jeff Kuyper said in a statement.
For Anderson, it’s a major win for the protection of the fauna and flora that live on the monument.
“One of the primary reasons that we defend the Carrizo and love it so much is because it is some of the last remaining habitat for a lot of critically endangered species that were historically found throughout the San Joaquin Valley,” Anderson said. “But the San Joaquin, obviously, has been converted to a major extent into industrial agriculture or oil fields.”
Threatened or endangered species such as the San Joaquin antelope squirrel, kit fox and the Kern mallow—a flowering plant—find refuge in the 204,000-acre monument, which may be best known for its spectacular “superblooms” of wildflowers, including California’s beloved poppy.
The monument’s vast, open spaces are vital for species that extend far beyond its boundaries. “It links these lands to other high-value habitat areas like the Los Padres National Forest, Salinas Valley, Cuyama Valley and Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in western Kern County,” ForestWatch stated. “Often referred to as ‘California’s Serengeti,’ it is one of the last undeveloped remnants of the southern San Joaquin Valley ecosystem.”
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