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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Oil, gas mapping may harm Carrizo National Monument
BLM wants impact report ahead of any exploration

April 14, 2008, the Bakersfield Californian

A Bakersfield oil company seeking oil and gas under the Carrizo Plain National Monument wants to either shake the ground from above or touch off dynamite from below to map the subsurface it owns.

But making its home somewhere in between is the endangered kangaroo rat, just one of the protected species living on the 250,000-acre national monument — one of the country’s newest. The land is the largest remaining contiguous habitats for many other endangered, threatened and rare species of animals including the San Joaquin kit fox, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard and several species of plants.

Bakersfield-based Vintage Production, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, retained mineral rights there when the preserve was created by presidential proclamation in 2001 just before President Clinton left office.
“Vintage has oil and mineral rights to 33,000 acres on the Carrizo Plains, so we understand the sensitivity of the issue,” said Susie Geiger, public affairs manager for Vintage Production. “

The monument, which was set up in a joint state-federal partnership with The Nature Conservancy, is just west of Taft in San Luis Obispo County — tantalizingly close to Kern County’s vast oil fields.
In fact, there is already some production in the steeper hills of the preserve. But the seismic mapping proposed by Vintage is in the much more sensitive valley floor.

While earlier exploratory drilling failed to find anything worth developing there, production technology has changed dramatically since those test holes were made, and the price of oil has zoomed to $110 a barrel.
Vintage Production said it wants to get to work in the monument as soon as possible.
But the Bureau of Land Management told the company that the environmental impact will have to be thoroughly studied by the company and approved by the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the Endangered Species Act.

“Because this is a national monument, there will be environmental concerns that will have to be strongly looked at,” said John Dearing, a BLM spokesman. “But they have a right to access.”
Environmentalists are divided on the proposed exploration. While they’re unhappy about the disturbance it is certain to cause, some see it as the only way to assign a worth to Vintage’s oil rights so that the process can begin to either buy them out or trade Vintage other federal oil properties and preserve the critical habitat.


In its March filing with the BLM, Vintage proposed two options for exploring Carrizo Plain’s valley floor.
The first option would be the use of four large vibrator trucks to shake the ground to set off waves through the subsurface.

Sophisticated equipment strung across the ground would map any caverns or crevasses deep below that might hold the promise for oil and gas.

The other option, the oil company said, is to drill holes 30 feet into the ground, pack into them 2.2 pounds of dynamite and set off explosions to create the sound waves.

Vintage Production said in its filing that it would take up to two weeks to complete the work. The company said workers will be trained in the guidelines and sensitive habitat of the monument grounds.
“We believe that preservation of the Carrizo Plain can be successful and still allow us to pursue and oil and gas,” Geiger said.

Still, violent shaking or shallow underground explosions are certain to be bad news for the kangaroo rat, whose prime habitat in the monument is precisely where the operations would take place.
Some studies involving prairie dogs concluded that the vibrator trucks can have lasting effects on colonies.

ALSO SEE: Too Wild to Drill

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