BLM Issues Record of Decision for Central Coast Oil and Gas Management Plan

On October 4th, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved a Resource Management Plan (RMP) Amendment that authorizes oil and natural gas leasing and development on federal lands across 11 counties in central California.  This decision also authorizes the BLM to issue, with “controlled surface use” stipulations, 14 previously litigated oil and gas leases in Monterey and San Benito Counties. Over the last five years, Aspen Environmental Group has been assisting the BLM’s Central Coast Field Office (CCFO) and California State Office with preparation of the RMP Amendment and EIS for this controversial project.

Following a court order and settlement agreement in Center for Biological Diversity v. Bureau of Land Management, and a related case, the BLM agreed to prepare an EIS addressing alternative management approaches to oil and gas development within the CCFO. The overall goal of the RMP Amendment planning effort was to update the existing management decisions and resource allocations for oil and gas leases by addressing new data, changing resource conditions, and changes in the use of public land.  The RMP Amendment/EIS incorporates this new information and updates the reasonably foreseeable development scenario (RFDS). The updated RFDS estimates that up to 37 new oil and gas wells may be drilled on federal mineral estate in the Planning Area over the next 15 to 20 years. Based on the RFDS and EIS, the final amended RMP identifies which lands are open or closed to oil and gas leasing and which stipulations would be applied on oil and gas exploration and development activities in order to protect environmental resources.

Within the CCFO Planning Area, the final amended RMP formally makes 683,100 acres of subsurface federal mineral estate available for oil and gas leasing, applies “controlled surface use” stipulations to all lands open to leasing, and applies “no surface occupancy” stipulations to 42,400 acres of designated lands to limit impacts to natural resources and wildlife.  An additional 67,500 acres of federal mineral estate is closed to leasing and development, including designated wilderness areas, wilderness study areas and national monuments. The Ciervo-Panoche Natural Area has been prioritized by the Fish and Wildlife Service for the recovery of the federally endangered San Joaquin kit fox and other species, including the giant kangaroo rat, and the final amended RMP also supports recovery of threatened and endangered plants and animals in the Ciervo-Panoche Natural Area by protecting core populations from surface disturbance.  The decision does not authorize any actual drilling for exploration or development of oil and gas resources.

Following publication of the Final EIS/Proposed RMP Amendment, the BLM received 436 administrative protests, all of which were denied or dismissed based on standing or issues raised.  In addition, in July 2019, the Governor of California submitted a letter to the BLM California Acting State Director asserting inconsistencies between the proposed RMP Amendment and state land use plans, programs, and policies related to the impacts of climate change.  As stated in BLM’s Record of Decision, the BLM Acting California State Director issued a response to the Governor that addressed the recommendations of the Governor.  The BLM provided a 30-day period for the Governor to appeal this response to the BLM Director. That appeal period closed on August 30, 2019, and no appeal was received.

The Planning Area covers federal mineral estate in the following 11 counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Merced, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Stanislaus Counties. The City and County of San Francisco is included within the Planning Area boundary but does not contain any BLM-administered lands.