Anti-fracking group forms and appeals County permit decision

May 7, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent

Local residents are forming a nonprofit organization aimed at working with stakeholders to ensure oil and gas operations in Ventura County have “effective oversight.”

Citizens For Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG) was formed by a group of 20 west county residents, in response to what they deem has been a lack of environmental review by Ventura County, which recently approved nine new oil wells and two wells to be reopened in the area above Thomas Aquinas College in Upper Ojai.

The area is part of the Ojai Oil Fields that include oil plays on Sulphur Mountain Road, along Sisar Creek and in the hills lining Highway 150 from Upper Ojai to Santa Paula.

According to the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) online database, there are 609 wells in the Ojai Oil fields. That number includes active and abandoned wells.

Monday, two of CFROG’s founding members, Marianne Ratcliff, of Upper Ojai, and John Brooks, of Oak View, presented appeal papers to the County of Ventura Planning Department. In addition to CFROG, a second private party also filed an appeal with the county regarding this project.

In the 1970s, John Whitman, a resident of Upper Ojai now in his 80s, successfully sued the Ventura County over its failure to consider cumulative effects when it approved one new well in the Ojai Oil fields. That case still stands as precedent.

“On April 24 the County Planning Department approved (these wells), discounting all the issues raised by several nearby residents related to air, water and traffic,” said Ratcliff. “CFROG has filed an appeal to ensure adequate environmental review.”

“At this point there is no way to know the impact of these wells,” Brooks added. “So until there is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that looks at both the individual and cumulative effect, the drilling should not go forward.”

He said that things have changed since 1985, when the county last reviewed the impact of new wells on this conditional use permit (C.U.P.). “My own view is that a new EIR and a county policy on hydraulic fracturing would be the best result of our appeal.”

The project in question is considered by the county to be a minor modification to an existing C.U.P. held by Mirada Petroleum of Santa Paula. At a public hearing in March, Mirada owner Scott Price indicated that he had no plans to hydraulically fracture these wells, but CFROG members point out that since the controversial practice, also called fracking, is not currently regulated or tracked in any way, nothing would prevent him from changing his mind.

“There is no environmental review for fracking,” said Ratcliff. “Oil and gas companies do not have to report what chemicals they use, how much they use or when or where they use them. Several bills to regulate fracking are being debated in the state legislature, but none is yet law. In the meantime, the chemicals injected into the earth — many of which are toxic and known carcinogens — are exempted from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act as a result of the 2005 energy bill.”

The appeal will now put the project before the County Planning Commission for a vote, and if that decision is appealed, it will then go to the County Board of Supervisors. The Planning Commission is comprised of five members, each representing a district in the county. Paul Magie represents District One, which includes the Ojai Valley.

“A Planning Commission hearing will likely be scheduled in approximately two months,” said Brian Baca, head of the Commercial and Industrial permitting wing of the Planning Department. “The Planning Commission will hear testimony from the appellants, the public and county staff and determine by vote whether to grant or deny the requested modified C.U.P., and concurrently, whether or not to grant or deny the appeal.”

For this appeal, CFROG paid a filing fee of $2,000, which was raised from donations made by its founding members and supporters.

According to a press release, CFROG supports a moratorium on fracking in the county and the state “Until disclosure, ground water monitoring, waste water disposal and other critical issues are addressed.”

Fracking is a decades-old practice, that — with new technology — now allows operators to tap into deep rock formations and extract oil and gas trapped underground for thousands of years. The process fractures the rock using a mixture of water, sand and chemicals injected at high-pressure deep underground.

“CFROG is not opposed to the drilling of oil and gas,” said Ratcliff. “Its aim is to ensure that oil and gas drilling is done safely and responsibly with adequate oversight. The current system that has no fracking regulations and relies on self-monitoring, self-testing and self-reporting by the oil and gas industry is insufficient.”

Scott Price of Mirada Petroleum did not respond by press deadline to requests for comment on the appeal.

Visit www.CFROG.org for more information or to join CFROG; visit www.conservation.ca.gov/dog to view wells, well records and the fracking discussion draft regulations.


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