Oil production compatible with forest
By Elton Gallegly
National forests are, by definition, multi-use lands. Unlike national parks, from which the harvest or removal of natural resources are generally prohibited, national forests are designed for recreation, livestock grazing, fish and wildlife habitats, timber harvesting, watershed protection and, yes, oil and gas production.
Such is the nature of the Los Padres National Forest, a spectacular tract of land composed of 1.75 million acres of semi-desert, chaparral and forests stretching across nearly 200 miles and six counties, including Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. It is home to the Sespe Condor Refuge, which my former congressional colleague Bob Lagomarsino and I championed through Congress, and the Sespe Creek, which we also succeeded in getting designated as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
It also has a long history of producing oil and natural gas and is, in fact, the only national forest in California that produces oil and natural gas.
Given its history and its designation as a multi-use resource, I'm a bit perplexed by the uproar over plans to expand oil production in the forest. We're not talking about oil rigs perched every hundred feet across the forest. The Forest Service has identified two preferred alternatives should oil production expand. One would have a total footprint of 45 acres, which includes a total of three miles of new roads. The other is even more restrictive - one mile of roads with a total footprint of 23 acres.
If we take the heaviest-use scenario, we're talking about opening less than 0.000026 percent - 2.6 hundred-thousandths of a percent - of the forest to oil production.
These wells also would be spread out across a wide area. They would have a minimal impact on a forest that is already producing commercial quantities of oil and natural gas.
We need to move away from extremist environmentalism and move toward common-sense environmentalism. Common-sense environmentalism strives for clean air and water, open spaces in which to recreate, sensible wildfire controls and set-asides for natural habitats. Common-sense environmentalism also recognizes private property rights and the need to use our resources for the benefit of society. In short, common-sense environmentalism is about balance.
There is balance in the proposal to expand oil production in the Los Padres. In expanding oil production, the Forest Service is still bound by the Endangered Species Act and other laws protecting wildlife. The small footprints take into account the 23 threatened and endangered animals in the forest and the three threatened and endangered plant species.
California condors are more in danger of dying from ingesting trash left behind by hikers and campers than they are from oil production facilities.
If we are to become less dependent on foreign sources of oil, we must develop supplies here at home. So-called renewable energy sources only go so far and have their environmental impacts as well. The wind turbines in Altamont Pass kill about 500 birds of prey every year. That's an astronomically higher impact than the proposed oil production in the Los Padres.
Los Padres' history proves that oil and natural gas production are compatible with a national forest. It's common sense to let it proceed.