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Conservation groups win fight to shut down some oil facilities in national monument in Tri-Counties

Two environmental groups have reached a settlemnt with the federal government in their efforts to permanently shut down some oil wells in the Carrizo Plain National Monument
Bureau of Land Management
Two environmental groups have reached a settlement with the federal government in their efforts to permanently shut down some oil wells in the Carrizo Plain National Monument

Settlement means plans for one new well in Carrizo Plain National Monument are scrapped, and 11 wells will eventually be removed.

It’s a natural, but little known wonder in the Tri-Counties that’s home to spectacular views and endangered species. The Carrizo Plain National Monument stretches across more than 200,000 acres of land in southeastern San Luis Obispo County.

Now, two environmental groups are celebrating a victory in their efforts to preserve it. They reached a settlement in a lawsuit with the federal government which blocks plans for a new oil well on the land, and will eventually lead to the removal of 11 wells.

"One (issue) was a proposal to drill a new well, and possibly a new pipeline," said Jeff Kuyper, the Executive Director of Los Padres ForestWatch.

It teamed up with Center for Biological Diversity in 2020 to sue the Federal Bureau of Land Management.

"The second issue was these defunct oil wells, wells that have been sitting there idle for decades, and decades, and decades, " said Kuyper. "The oil industry hasn't had any incentive to remove, and remediate these oil wells."

The lawsuit argued that even though the projects were in an existing oil field, they would harm threatened and endangered wildlife, and violate some federal environmental policies and laws. It also contended that the BLM failed to protect Carrizo’s resources, allowing old idle wells to remain in the monument for decades.

The settlement calls for revocation of the new well and pipeline permit, the permanent shutdown of the 11 old oil wells and creation of a project to cap them, and remove the oil field.

Ileene Anderson is a Senior Scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

"On the face of it, it wasn't like it was a huge new oil field, it was just a well or two that they were contemplating, but it was the principle of the thing... here's a national monument, a refuge for a lot of species," said Anderson.

Anderson says the national monument is one of nature’s treasure troves. The San Andres Fault runs through it, and its home to a number of endangered plants and animals.

The agreement calls for a public process to develop a plan to remove the 11 wells in question. Once a plan is finalized, the removal and remediation work would have to be done in five years. It includes things like removing machinery, taking out cement well pads and tearing out access roads.

A Kern County based company, E & B Natural Resources, has all of the oil facilities in the national monument.

The environmentalists say they want to work with the BLM on plans to remove the remaining two dozen other idle wells in the national monument. There are nine still operating wells on the federal land.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.