|It Would Set a Bad Precedent for Public Lands||
Editor’s Note – The Forest Service has completed a mineral survey of Los Padres National Forest. It contains 140,000 acres, which may contain large amounts of oil. The Forest Service will now draw up a report outlining which areas would be acceptable for leasing, possibly to oil companies. If any areas are found to be acceptable, the land will be up for lease — assuming someone is interested.
The authors would like to thank the UCSB Geology Dept., the Santa Barbara Environmental Defense Center, the California Wild Heritage Campaign, the USDA Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Shadi Muklashy / Daily Nexus
|The Forest Wont’ Be Affected by The Free Market|
| It would be hard to get particularly hot and bothered over the environmental impact of opening areas of Los Padres National Forest (LPNF) for leasing. Under the Forest Service’s preferred plan, only 40 of the 140,000 oil bearing acres could be disturbed and only three miles of board roads could be laid down.
Oil companies have vastly improved their environmental track record in recent years. Three existing oil fields currently operate in Los Padres with minimal impact on the environment, the oldest of which has been in place for over 100 years — long before the land became LPNF.
Any new oil leases would include tons of additional environmental restrictions and relatively little of the low quality oil lies underground in the first place. No oil company has been interested in the land for almost 15 years anyway and none in their right mind would drill for 10 to 30 years for so little profit.
Some environmentalists point to worst case scenarios: oil spills, industrial accidents and the like. It is true that were everything to go wrong at once, an acre of oil-producing land could contaminate as many as 1000 acres of wilderness through watershed pollution and other assorted varieties of nastiness.
But the odds of such an accident are minimal, given the number of restrictions and the amount of planning that goes into drilling in a single well. The only environmental damage done by increased oil production would be the pollution put into the air by local refining of the petroleum products. Even this would be a minimal contributor to ozone production in Santa Barbara County, which has exceeded state ozone regulations for over 10 years because of auto exhaust.
All this assumes that the oil companies would show a bit of interest — which so far, they haven’t.
Still, even if no one does the environment a bad turn by offering land in LPNF for lease, the proposal is far from doing good. In the five public hearings on the subject held so far, there has been no public support for leasing — and LPNF is public land.
The California Wild Heritage Campaign and other environmentalist organizations are currently campaigning to have large parts of LPNF, 74 percent of which is roadless and feral, converted into national wildlife reserves, which would permanently prevent development on the land. A decision to open areas for lease could interfere with the process.
The upcoming decision by the USDA Forest Service also falls at an awkward time. The state is currently beginning a comprehensive review and revision of Forest Service management policies — a process that takes place once every 10 to 15 years. Many environmentalists believe that making such a large executive decision on leasing before the management review is complete is out of place: putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.
But perhaps the largest conflict at the heart of the decision is one of ideals.
The federal government has promised the country a pair of strange bedfellows: a war and no new taxes. Part of the current plan is to get money by opening up public lands for lease, most notably in Alaska, and funneling the lease money into the national treasury.
Part of the current energy bill includes a clause that would revoke the USDA Forest Service’s right to control oil and gas leasing on its land. White House officials, including an oil-friendly president, would instead be in charge of making such decisions.
But oil can’t last forever — much less the practice of opening up national forests for oil prospecting. Eventually we’re going to have to switch to renewable energy sources — and solar power plants don’t have to go in national forests.
Write and tell the Forest Service to disallow leasing in LPNF.
Josh Braun is the Daily Nexus science editor and a junior sciences in the media major.
| Contrary to popular belief, opening Los Padres National Forest (LPNF) land for leasing is not only a good idea, but could also prove be a beneficial one.
First off, it is important to realize that if this Federal land were to be opened into the free market, the oil companies would not come running. There are potentially 84 million barrels of oil located in the LPNF and the United States uses 20 million barrels of oil per day. If all of the oil was drilled and tapped at LPNF the end result would be a little over four days worth of oil for the U.S. This would be an unprofitable endeavor for the oil companies.
If the decision is made by the USDA Forest Service to allow leasing on the land, there are many environmental restrictions and regulations that will have to be met. The most detrimental restriction to any interested lessors is that no surface occupancies will be allowed on 62 percent of the land available. No surface occupancy means any party that leased the land would not be allowed to build any type of structure on the property. If people or groups decided to lease the land from LPNF, the environment would be affected minimally. The preferred Forest Service’s plan would allow a maximum of 40 acres to be developed and only three miles of temporary roads.
To the oil companies, the area of land that is being discussed offers virtually nothing but trouble. The primary disadvantage of the leasing for the oil companies is the high expense and the low cost effectiveness of the operation. The restriction on surface occupancies would make it harder and more expensive to build and operate their equipment because the oil companies would be forced to use a side-drilling method to reach most of the oil. The side-drilling method would require the oil companies to build a structure elsewhere and drill at an angle to reach the deposits.
In addition to the high fiscal expenses, the wells would take 10 years to drill and at least 30 years to tap out. This is assuming the oil company finds anything at all. Anytime a drilling operation begins, there is a 70 to 80 percent chance that it will result in a dry well. Even if they found oil, it would only be a very small amount and what they would find, geologists say, would be of low grade.
Making this land available is not soliciting the oil companies (the so-called “enemy”) in any way because they don’t want it.
Open the land up for bidding and try to lease it now. The decision does not need to wait for the Forest Service’s management to be reviewed. If there is an interested group, try to make some money off of the land and budget the net income toward preservation, land maintenance or whatever your little hearts desire.
So if it is the environment you are worried about, keep in mind that because of the regulations there will be minimal long-term effects on the wilderness or the environment and essentially no one will even know the land is being leased. Furthermore, anyone leasing the land is required to clean up and restore the area when the lease is up. What’s the difference between making this a wilderness area and allowing development with such low environmental impact?
Of all the battles that the environmentalists fight, this should be the least of their priorities. The environment is not being altered or displaced, AND money can be made and allocated to other areas to benefit some of their concerns for the national forests in this country.
Write to the Forest Service and support the free market.
Stephanie McCoy is a junior business/economics major.
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