BLM criticized for oil leases with local restrictions in place

The road entering the Clear Creek Management Area sits empty Saturday. The recreation spot is the site of a struggle between the BLM, off-roaders and environmentalists.

The Bureau of Land Management will hold a public meeting Wednesday evening at San Juan Oaks Golf Club concerning oil and gas leasing in the county.

During Tuesday’s county board meeting, Supervisor Robert Rivas asked to agendize an item related to the BLM meeting as an urgency matter. After some back and forth between the board and county counsel, the item was agendized.

“Why they’re having these (meetings) is they plan to address oil and gas leasing and the development of oil and gas on 793,000 acres of federal mineral estate that includes San Benito County,” Rivas said Tuesday. “What makes this unique in our region is our county in 2014 we passed Measure J, which regulates the development of oil and gas in San Benito County.”

Rivas went on to note how the Monterey County recently passed oil and gas restrictions in Measure Z.

“I thought it was important to draft a letter on behalf of our board that I would like to be delivered to the BLM at their public meeting on Wednesday,” he said. “The intent of the letter is to make sure BLM is aware that we have local zoning regulations and restrictions for some of this oil activity or the development of oil and gas in San Benito County.”

Other supervisors were quick to side with Rivas.

“To me this is a no brainer,” Supervisor Mark Medina said. “It’s simple. San Benito County passed Measure J in 2014, so I have no reason why we would not sign this letter.”

County voters approved Measure J in November 2014, which banned all enhanced extraction methods such as steaming, fracking and well acidizing. At the time, Citadel Exploration had been pursuing the use of cyclic steaming in up to 1,000 oil wells in the Bitterwater area of San Benito County near Pinnacles National Park. Measure J put a stop to that project.

Citadel filed a $1.2 billion claim and then a lawsuit shortly after. County supervisors followed up by hiring a law firm for defense against the lawsuit and established a legal defense fund while soliciting donations from the public. Citadel dropped the suit before the first hearing.

Supervisor Anthony Botelho said during Tuesday’s meeting that it’s imperative the board voiced their concerns.

“Our voices are strong individually as supervisors, but if we are speaking as a board it’s that much stronger,” Botelho said. “We have to make that voice heard loud and clear.”

Ultimately, the supervisors unanimously agreed to draft the letter and to notify Monterey County and Santa Cruz County as well.

The board’s letter reads as follows:

It has come to our attention that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is preparing to offer oil and gas leases on thousands of acres of land with federal mineral rights in San Benito and surrounding counties.

As the elected representatives of San Benito County, we would like to alert you to the fact that San Benito County has restrictions in our zoning and general plan on land uses that support oil and gas operations.

In 2014 the citizens of San Benito County passed Measure J, which prohibits land uses that support enhanced drilling methods (fracking, acidizing, steam injection) in unincorporated San Benito County.

We urge the BLM to refrain from oil and gas leases on federal land, and other lands (private or public), with federal mineral rights within the County of San Benito. Under California law, counties have authority over land use and zoning. The people of San Benito County have determined that many oil activities are incompatible with other land uses in their county.

We request that the BLM respect our local authority over land use by not granting oil and gas leases in our county.

The BLM public meeting will take place Wednesday, March 15 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at San Juan Oaks Golf Club, 3825 Union Road in Hollister.

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