Trump Administration OKs Drilling in California’s Largest Grassland

The Carrizo Plain National Monument. (Photo via Antandrus / Wikipedia)

(CN) — The Trump administration announced plans to allow oil and gas development on a national monument that is home to endangered species and unspoiled wilderness stashed in between the most populous parts of the state. 

The Bureau of Land Management approved a new oil well and pipeline in the Carrizo Plain National Monument, located in the southeastern part of San Luis Obispo County about four hours north of Los Angeles. 

“The selected alternative is consistent with the intent of [Mineral Leasing Act] to promote the mining of oil and gas on the public domain,” the BLM said in its approval of the oil and gas lease released last Friday. 

Environmental organizations decried the news, saying the oil well is unproductive, inefficient and will degrade one of the few remaining wild places in the San Joaquin Valley, which is dominated by the agricultural industry. 

“While many of us are worried about basic needs during a time of crisis, the Trump administration is busy catering to the oil industry at the expense of people and the planet,” said ForestWatch Executive Director Jeff Kuyper. “The Carrizo Plain National Monument is one of our region’s most precious wild places and deserves better than this.”

The monument, which was established in 2001 through a designation by President Bill Clinton, encompasses the largest remaining grassland in California — often called the Serengeti of California. The area is known for its profusion of wildflowers that bloom abundantly in the spring, as well as playing host to some of the area’s most critically endangered animals. 

The San Joaquin kit fox and San Joaquin squirrels are both endangered and have created habitat within the monument. There is also an endangered wildflower called the Kern mallow that makes its home within the monument’s borders. 

Should a company take up the lease and activate the well on the property, it would be the first time oil would be extracted from the site since 2001. 

“The Trump administration’s irrational decision to approve oil drilling in this spectacular place ignores climate change, imperils rare wildlife, and contradicts the monument’s conservation purpose,” said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The proposed location for the oil pad is at the base of the Caliente Range of mountains and would only be allowed to be developed because it preceded the monument’s designation and it was expressly agreed that it was subject to a grandfather clause. 

But oil companies that carried the lease haven’t pulled a drop of oil out of the site since the 1950s. After the designation, the oil company that operated the lease agreed to a remediation plan with the BLM in 2016 but that has since been abandoned under the Trump administration’s policy of encouraging oil and gas development on public lands. 

The project had already been resurrected in 2018 but the BLM took the site back offline after a coalition of environmental organizations filed a series of objections. 

The BLM said the oil and gas lease would not have an undue impact on the flora and fauna of the national monument, given that the proposal is advocating the drilling of a single oil well and a pipeline in a tiny corner of the sprawling public space. 

“I find this action to be in conformance with applicable land use plans, that it effectively serves the public, and that it will not cause unnecessary or undue degradation,” said Gabriel Garcia, the BLM Bakersfield Field Office Manager. 

Garcia also said concerns over endangered species are not warranted. 

“The proposed action will have no effect on designated critical habitat for federally listed species as none occurs within the project area,” he said. 

But wildlife advocates are suspicious that the BLM was ordered to produce that finding after withdrawing their approval documents dating back to 2018. The BLM does acknowledge the possibility that the mallow, squirrels and fox have the potential to inhabit the contested area. 

Environmental groups continue to advance the perspective that oil and gas development is not appropriate for public lands, particularly as fossil fuels are responsible for the increase of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, which produces surface temperature spikes associated with climate change. 

“Instead of expanding oil and gas drilling, we need to keep dirty fossil fuels in the ground and turn to renewable energy sources,” Belenky said. 

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