Los Padres National Forest may be one of many public lands used for oil drilling to comply with a federal policy that seeks to double the number of wells drilled each year by 2020.

About one hundred people attended the Los Padres National Forest public hearing at the Goleta Community Center Friday evening to learn about the possibility of oil drilling in LPNF or to protest the National Forest System’s decision to lease certain lands within the LPNF for oil exploration and drilling.

The National Forest Service and the LPNF are working with the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management to analyze 767,000 acres of land that could be leased for oil and gas exploration, development and production, according to a draft Environmental Impact Statement passed out at the meeting. A final decision will be released in late spring.

The LPNF contains 1,969,520 acres and extends approximately 220 miles from the Point Sur area to Ojai in the south. An estimated 84 million barrels of oil and 36 billion cubic feet of natural gas lie in the southern portion of the LPNF, representing 1 percent of the oil and .006 percent of the gas underlying the federal land in the United States.

Last May, the National Energy Policy Development Group released a policy supported by the Bush administration, which directs federal agencies, such as the NFS, to consider any actions that could “significantly and adversely affect energy supplies, distribution and use.” According to the National Energy Policy, oil and natural gas provides 62 percent of the nation’s energy and approximately100 percent of the fuel used for transportation, a demand which is expected to increase by 50 percent for natural gas and one-third for oil by 2020.

“To meet increased natural gas demands in the coming decades, total wells drilled annually will need to double the 1999 level by 2020,” according to the report.

The NFS will first decide which specific lands the BLM will be authorized to lease to oil companies and which set of conditions the leases will follow. At the Friday meeting, representatives from the NFS presented seven alternative conditions that the NFS will consider before leasing and to the BLM. The options ranged from no new leasing of the land to allowing leasing on all NFS lands.

The NFS’s preferred plan of action will include measures that would enforce protection of the land through limited time and space occupancy. Project Manager Al Hess said the NFS preferred the alternative that would provide adequate protection to preserving the land and wildlife.

“Everyone’s entitled to an opinion,” said Hess. “But I feel we really are offering protection.”

Sierra Club member and UCSB graduate Arianna Katovich said drilling would interfere with the natural environment.

“Oil drilling in Los Padres will affect UCSB students that hike, swim and breathe air,” she said.

Even if the Bureau of Land Management does decide to lease the land, there is no guarantee that an oil company will bid on a lease.

The oil industry has not shown much interest in the area, said Project Consultant Terry Clapham

Over 95 percent of the oil and gas underlying Los Padres is thought to be along the south boundary of the forest, north of Santa Paula and Fillmore and at the north end of the forest, south of Cuyama.

The Santa Ynez Watershed and Big Sur Coastal Zone are designated wilderness areas in Los Padres and are protected from leasing.

Senior environmental studies major Nicole La Count said she is generally opposed to oil drilling and believes there are alternative ways to obtain energy.

“I think the general move in Santa Barbara is to phase out oil drilling, and this would be a reversal of that effort,” LaCount said.

Comments to the Forest Service will be welcomed until Feb. 15 and can be sent to Al Hess at <ahess@fs.fed.us>.