Conservation groups sued the Trump administration in Los Angeles federal court Tuesday in a bid to reverse its approval of what would be the first new oil well and pipeline in Carrizo Plain National Monument since it was established in 2001.
The legal action also seeks to resolve the fate of other long-dormant wells and associated facilities that the Bureau of Land Management identified for possible removal in 2013.
“It’s appalling that it takes a lawsuit to protect our spectacular national monuments, but we’ll do whatever’s necessary,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration has flouted the law to appease polluting industries, decimate public lands and worsen the climate crisis. Thankfully this disastrous fracking frenzy is almost over.”
A message sent to the BLM seeking comment was not immediately answered.
The BLM originally approved the well and pipeline in 2018, but withdrew that approval last year after Los Padres ForestWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity filed objections. The conservation groups cited the well’s potential harm to wildlife, views and the climate.
In May, the BLM reapproved the project, continuing to disregard significant environmental harms, according to the plaintiffs. The proposed fossil fuel extraction would harm threatened and endangered wildlife, mar scenic views and violate several laws, including the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act, as well as the monument’s resource-management plan, the Center for Biological Diversity maintains.
The proposed well site is located at the base of the Caliente Mountains, inside the western boundary of Carrizo Plain National Monument. The area is home to several protected species, including threatened San Joaquin antelope squirrels, endangered San Joaquin kit foxes and an endangered flowering plant called the Kern mallow.
“Today’s lawsuit asks the bureau to do what its own management plan requires it to do: Phase out oil drilling in the Carrizo Plain National Monument and clean up the mess that has been left behind,” said ForestWatch Executive Director Jeff Kuyper. “More wells and pipelines will send this precious landscape — and our planet — in the wrong direction.”
The well would be drilled on a pad that hasn’t produced oil since the 1950s, according to the plaintiffs. In 2016 the bureau agreed to the oil company’s request to abandon the old well, pipelines and other equipment at the site. The company, E&B Natural Resources, was supposed to restore the area to its natural condition, including recontouring and reseeding. The work was never done, the plantiffs say.
The groups’ lawsuit calls for a plan to properly abandon and reclaim old well sites owned by E&B Natural Resources. In 2013 the bureau and the oil company began evaluating a dozen idle wells in the Carrizo Plain to determine whether they should be permanently plugged and the surrounding land restored to natural conditions. Seven years later, only one of the wells has been addressed, according to the plaintiffs, who allege the Bakersfield-based oil company has a history of spills and violations across California.
The Carrizo Plain was declared a national monument in 2001. It includes more than 206,000 acres of public lands — perhaps the largest native grassland remaining in all of California.