Called "California's Serengeti" as the state's largest remaining open grassland, San Luis Obispo County’s Carrizo Plain National Monument survived last year’s effort by the Trump administration to shrink or revoke national monuments across the country. But in March, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved construction of a new oil well and a pipeline within the monument's boundaries.
It's the first oil production activity the federal government has approved in Carrizo Plain since the area was designated a national monument in 2001.
In 2011, the independent oil company E&B Natural Resources applied to drill a new oil well in the Russell Ranch Oil Field, which was grandfathered in when the national monument status was established.
The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages the national monument. BLM field manager Gabe Garcia made the decision to approve the new drilling.
“There are several leases that are active within the Carrizo Plain National Monument boundary," Garcia said. "Most of them are on the south end, within the Cuyama Valley area, so it's not right down in the heart of the Carrizo Plain. These are valid existing rights that have been in existence for many, many decades, so there is always the potential for oil companies to come in for exploratory purposes to develop their oil leases."
It’s one of the lowest-producing oil fields in the state, but the company sought to extract whatever petroleum was left there. Seven years after the company requested to drill a new well, the BLM approved E&B Natural Resources’ application in March.
“E&B Natural Resources has been issued a permit to drill a well on a previously disturbed 0.5 acre well pad in the Russell Ranch Oil Field. An environmental assessment was conducted on the proposed well showing no significant impacts by the Bureau of Land Management,” according to E&B spokesperson Amy Roth.
On April 20, a coalition of environmental groups launched an effort to get the decision reversed and permit revoked. The groups filed an appeal with the Interior Board of Land Appeals and the California director of the BLM.
"The appeals show that the oil well and pipeline would harm threatened and endangered wildlife and mar scenic views," according to Los Padres ForestWatch, one of the non-profits that filed the appeal.
“This seems like a terrible idea to me,” San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson said after hearing of the BLM's approval. “It looks to me to be a deliberate insult by the Trump administration to this county, sort of like their proposals to restart offshore oil leasing."
The environmental groups say the permit violates the Antiquity Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the resource management plan for the national monument.
Their filing asks the BLM appeals board and the agency’s California director to block any action by the oil company until the decision is reconsidered.