On the heels of a major oil spill in California’s Los Padres National Forest, three conservation groups have filed a lawsuit over plans to expand oil and gas drilling in Los Padres. The lawsuit, filed by Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Los Padres ForestWatch, states that the U.S. Forest Service’s plan to increase drilling would harm endangered California condors, in addition to other wildlife, plants and recreation. The groups charge that the plan is a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.
"Oil and nature don't mix," said David Hogan, conservation manager for the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Forest Service's claim that new oil and gas drilling won't cause any harm to condors or other wildlife insults the intelligence of every American who values long-term conservation of our national forests over short-term profit."
The Los Padres National Forest oil and gas leasing decision was approved by the Forest Service in July 2005 and would expand oil drilling across 52,075 acres of the forest in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The project will negatively affect wildlife, including the California condor and several other endangered species, by allowing surface drilling within a stone’s throw of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary and the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, two areas critical to the survival and recovery of the condor. The decision also allows surface drilling immediately adjacent to the Dick Smith, Chumash, and Sespe wilderness areas, and slant drilling beneath the Wild and Scenic Sespe Creek, and Wild and Scenic eligible Piru Creek and Santa Paula Creek.
Past oil and gas development has already caused significant harm to the Los Padres National Forest and nearby protected areas. On January 29th of this year, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum spilled at least 200 gallons of oil and 2,100 gallons of wastewater into Tar Creek, a tributary of federally designated Wild and Scenic Sespe Creek along the southern boundary of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary. Several sources have confirmed that up to four times that amount was spilled, and a final report is expected soon after an investigation is completed.
"The recent oil spill near the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in the Los Padres is further proof that oil-drilling expansion is incompatible with the protection of our local backcountry," said Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife. "If more oil drilling is allowed to occur on our public lands, spills will inevitably become even more frequent."
Nearly a dozen other significant spills have occurred in this area in the past three years, including a massive spill of 8,400 gallons of salt water and an "unknown" amount of oil into the Four Forks Creek, another tributary of Sespe Creek, and an additional spill in the nearby Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge – an area closed to public entry and set aside to protect the critically endangered California condor.
According to a 2004 report by the Forest Service and Michigan State University, the Los Padres is one of the most heavily visited national forests in the country, attracting millions of visitors from San Francisco to Los Angeles and beyond. The study revealed that forest visitors spend an average of $43 each day they visit the Los Padres. With nearly two million visitors per year, the Los Padres is a boon to the bottom line of the local economy.
“The expansion of oil drilling in our local backcountry is fundamentally incompatible with forest recreation, clean air, and the protection of wildlife,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, based in Santa Barbara. "Unfortunately, this administration has ignored the concerns of the local community. 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."