Since the area’s recognition as an important natural area, designation as a National Monument in 2001 and subsequent management as part of the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System, the Carrizo Plain has benefited from management decisions including the reduction of oil and gas drilling and the implementation of critical conservation measures such as reduced grazing on the Carrizo and Elkhorn Plains.
The last of the existing “grandfathered” federal oil and gas leasing permits – which predated the monument’s designation – lapsed in February 2006. Because the Presidential Proclamation that created the monument prohibits any new oil leases on BLM lands where the agency holds the mineral rights, its pristine and previously developed areas should be positioned to enjoy permanent protection from oil industry pressures.
Unfortunately, 30,000 acres within the monument’s boundaries are privately-owned properties known as “inholdings.” In addition, the mineral rights to BLM lands, including surface access rights, are privately held on approximately 150,000 acres (or 60 percent) within the 250,000 acre monument. Even more disconcerting is that an oil company, Occidental Petroleum, owns 20,000 acres of these privately held mineral rights.
If oil and gas exploration and development were to occur on even a fraction of those 150,000 acres of privately held mineral rights, it could prove devastating to Carrizo Plain National Monument. The associated industrial activity, including roads, drilling pads, pipelines, and other infrastructure, would destroy suitable habitat for the San Joaquin kit fox, the bluntnosed leopard lizard, and other endangered animals.
Fortunately, the current assessment of the oil and gas potential on the Carrizo Plain is low, meaning that there is either a low probability that oil and gas would be found there or that, if oil and gas were to be found, it would be unprofitable to remove.