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BLM proposes to frack parcels in the Ojai Valley

Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News reporter
The comment period on a Bureau of Land Management proposal to open more than 1 million acres in California to drilling and fracking — including parcels in the Ojai Valley — ends June 10.
The plan, detailed by the Trump administration in April, targets public and private land in eight counties. The proposal sparked immediate backlash from environmental groups. “The plan targets some of our region’s most iconic landscapes and sets the stage to opening them up for fossil-fuel drilling and fracking,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch.
Parcels include a 40-acre piece of land on the eastern edge of The Thacher School’s campus, a privately owned 40-acre parcel in Upper Ojai between Sisar and Koenigstein roads, and a small parcel in the hills behind the Ojai Valley Inn, and land adjacent to a wildlife refuge near Fillmore.
Public comments due June 10
The BLM is taking written comments on the proposal until June 10. The public can submit comments through an online portal at www.lpfw.org/fracking or via the BLM’s website at https://go.usa.gov/xE3Nw.

ForestWatch has also posted the BLM’s GIS data on an easy-to-use interactive map showing the parcels open for drilling and fracking at https://forestwatch.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=96d9c40f4bdb48c880d19fb8d1229bc7

 
Environmentalists claim that if the plan is allowed to move forward, it will have significant public health and environmental impacts, “… everything from increased air emissions to risks to the water supply,” said Kuyper, adding that the BLM needs to look at the plan on a site-specific level. “Having an industrialized drilling and fracking operation on a high school campus, for example, is completely incompatible with the campus atmosphere.”
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and natural gas producers in the west, said environmentalists’ fears are unfounded. “They’re hysterical, frankly,” she said. “Oil and natural gas development is done in a way to protect air, water, the land, wildlife. We have to get an air permit from the California air board, we have to ensure that the well bore is sufficiently strong and that any fracking that might occur in those wells is done to protect water quality.”
The proposal does not target wilderness areas or national parks, Sgamma said, and the number of potential wells is relatively small. “When you look at the actual document, no new acreage is opened, as compared to previous resource management plans, and the estimate is that up to 37 wells would be drilled over the life of the plan, which is about 15 to 20 years … with a total acreage disturbance of 206 acres. And that’s over a potential area of nearly 700,000 acres,” she explained.
In the Ojai area, land targeted by the BLM includes the Ilvento Preserve, an 80-acre parcel that in 1997 became Ojai Valley Land Conservancy’s first land acquisition. Like the Thacher property, the land is privately owned, but the mineral rights below the parcel are owned by the federal government. “These are energy resources that all Americans own,” Sgamma said.
Nearly 1,500 acres of targeted federal public land are adjacent to the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. That worries Clare Lakewood, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The lands and mineral estate the Trump administration is planning to open up is home to threatened and endangered species, like the San Joaquin kit fox and the California condor,” she said.
The proposal will cause habitat loss, risk contamination of aquatic environments and vital water sources, and put species at risk from noise and light pollution, vehicle traffic and ingestion of litter, according to Lakewood. “Worst of all, producing more fossil fuels will only worsen the climate crisis, increasing drought conditions and extending fire seasons. That affects everyone, wildlife and humans alike,” she said.
On April 30, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to send a letter to the BLM requesting a public meeting on the plan, like meetings slated for Bakersfield, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. “Ventura County was not included in that public meeting schedule,” said Jeff Kuyper.
A representative from Supervisor Steve Bennett’s office told the Ojai Valley News there has been no reply from the BLM to that letter.
A decision on the administration’s plan, first proposed in 2018, is expected in September. “The BLM has been fast-tracking this plan since Day 1,” Kuyper said. “Eventually, this will likely land back in court.”
The BLM is taking written comments on the proposal until June 10. The public can submit comments through an online portal at www.lpfw.org/fracking or via the BLM’s website.
ForestWatch has also posted the BLM’s GIS data on an easy-to-use interactive map showing the parcels open for drilling and fracking at https://forestwatch.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=96d9c40f4bdb48c880d19fb8d1229bc7
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