Last week, the US Forest Service unveiled a company’s proposal to hydraulically fracture eight oil and gas wells in the Los Padres National Forest. The wells – located north of Fillmore in the Sespe Oil Field – would bring the total number of wells fracked here to 18 in the last three years, making it the highest concentration of fracking along California’s central coast.
Along with the eight wells, the oil company – Seneca Resources Corporation of Houston, Texas – is seeking permission to construct nearly two miles of new pipelines, a 12,600-gallon tank, and other industrial facilities in this remote area.
“Like most of the wells completed previously in the Sespe Oil Field, the new wells would be hydraulically fractured as part of completing the wells for production,” states Los Padres National Forest Supervisor Ken Heffner in a letter to interested parties dated May 2, 2014.
The Forest Service will accept comments on the announcement until June 4. Then, officials will prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) and could approve the wells as early as next year. An EA is a concise, less-detailed analysis than a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). But under federal law, the Forest Service must prepare a full EIS for any proposal that may have a significant environmental impact, as well as for issues such as fracking that involve substantial controversy.
“Fracking eight wells and constructing two miles of pipeline in an environmentally sensitive area clearly warrants a full, thorough, and careful analysis in an EIR,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, a nonprofit organization that monitors fracking and drilling throughout Los Padres National Forest. “There’s too much at stake to fast-track fracking in our forest.”
Hydraulic fracturing – commonly known as “fracking” – is a process whereby water, sand, and thousands of gallons of chemical additives are injected underground to break apart rock formations and stimulate the extraction of oil and gas. The technique has come under increasing scrutiny from scientists, regulators, and the public due to concerns with groundwater contamination, water consumption, and public health. Hundreds of fracking chemicals are toxic to humans and wildlife, and several are known to cause cancer.
The oil field is located in the heart of habitat for endangered California condors. The
headwaters of several mountain streams originate in the oil field before emptying into Sespe Creek, which is critical habitat for endangered steelhead.
California regulators plan to release a draft report studying the potential impacts of fracking sometime in 2015. Because of the continued unknown risks of fracking, California legislators are currently considering legislation to impose a moratorium on fracking until a comprehensive study of the environmental and public health impacts of fracking is complete.
“These are public lands, located right in the heart of some of the most environmentally sensitive watersheds in the forest,” said Kuyper. “It’s too risky to allow fracking and other controversial oil extraction techniques to occur until regulations are finalized and adequate safeguards are in place to protect our watersheds.”