Almost three months after a spill in the Los Padres National Forest dumped more than 800 gallons of oil into Tar Creek, three conservation groups have joined together in a lawsuit that they hope will put an end to new drilling in the forest.
The Los Padres ForestWatch, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife filed the lawsuit on Monday at the U.S. District Court in Sacramento. According to a press release from Jeff Kuyper, the executive director of ForestWatch, a currently proposed increase in drilling would endanger the well being of plants, recreation and wildlife – including the endangered California condors – in the forest, which attracts two million visitors annually.
Kathy Good, the public affairs officer for Los Padres, said she could not comment on the lawsuit, but said that the leasing and development of land to the oil and gas industry is far from imminent. Additionally, Good said only 21 acres of woodland has the potential for actual development to occur.
In 2005, a 10-year environmental impact study of 760,000 acres of land in the forest was conducted to investigate if there was any land that could potentially be leased to oil and gas companies, Good said. The study concluded that 715,000 acres were off-limits, leaving 48,000 acres available to leasing with no development allowed. Approximately 4,300 acres were determined to be available for leasing with provisions for surface disturbance, but Good said that does not mean all the land would be developed.
“Of that 4,277 acres, the environmental impact report projected that only about 21 acres of land developments would occur,” Good said. “Those lands were primarily near existing oil fields and [the necessary development] would be for all the well pads and access roads needed to get to the oil.”
Good said if the land were made available for leasing, the leaseholders would be required to present their plan, and a more specific environmental impact study would be conducted on the purchased land.
“[Restrictions] would require that all power lines would be underground, wells would have rupture guards to keep birds from sitting on them, any liquid on site would be covered and all micro trash would be picked up,” she said. “There are a lot of strict measures that would and will be developed.”
John Buse, who works for the Center for Biological Diversity, said he does not think any more development should be permitted in the forest because it will inevitably increase the probability of more oil spills, accidents and the disturbance of wildlife.
Initial reports that the Tar Creek spill, which occurred on Jan. 29, only involved five barrels of oil have been revised. Good said that at least 19 barrels were emptied, and an ongoing investigation could reveal that even more oil was spilled. The California Dept. of Fish and Game is currently investigating the incident, and Good said it will release a report by June with specific information regarding the amount of oil spilled and the wildlife affected.
While there are no reports that the spill affected the condors, Kuyper said the possibility is always present.
“The expansion of oil drilling in our local wild lands is fundamentally incompatible with forest recreation, clean air and the protection of wildlife,” he wrote in a press release. “By filing this lawsuit, we’re drawing a line and saying ‘enough is enough.’ The Los Padres is far too important to risk for less than a day’s supply of oil.”