Environmental and Social Equity Groups Challenge Ventura County's Lax Oversight of Oil Industry

NOTE: FULL REPORT AVAILABLE BY CLICKING HERE.

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release: April 28, 2015
Contact: Brian Segee, EDC Ventura County Senior Attorney (805) 640-1832
        Maricela Morales, CAUSE Incoming Executive Director (805) 217-7321
        John Brooks, CFROG President (805) 258-6072
        Mike Stubblefield, Sierra Club, Los Padres Chapter (805) 216-2630
        Bruce Schoppe, Ventura Audubon Society (805) 658-2396    

ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL EQUITY GROUPS CHALLENGE VENTURA COUNTY’S
LAX OVERSIGHT OF OIL INDUSTRY

MORE THAN 400 OIL WELLS RECENTLY EXEMPTED FROM COUNTY LAWS, INCLUDING NEW REQUIREMENTS FOR FRACKING AND ACIDIZING

Ventura, CA—On behalf of Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (“CAUSE”), Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas (“CFROG”), Sierra Club, Los Padres Chapter, and Ventura Audubon Society, the nonprofit law firm Environmental Defense Center (“EDC”) today notified the Ventura County Board of Supervisors that the County is unlawfully exempting oil and gas activity from local land use and environmental laws.  In a recent two-year period (April 2012-April 2014), nearly 95% of well drilling in the County, totaling more than 400 wells, was conducted without environmental review or application of new County notice and reporting requirements for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and acid well stimulation (“acidizing”).

The 400 exempted wells were drilled in 19 oil fields, located in both densely populated urban areas and largely undisturbed natural areas throughout Ventura County, including coastal regions, the Oxnard Plain, the Ventura and Santa Clara River valleys, the upper Ojai Valley, the Simi Valley, and the Sespe-Piru region.  These aging oil fields operate under “antiquated” permits typically issued in the 1940s, 1950s, or 1960s, but many are now being intensively drilled again using risky new methods of fracking and acidizing that pose heightened risks of chemical spills, impacts to surface water and ground water, and increased emissions of greenhouse gasses and other air pollutants.

The County’s exemptions are made pursuant to a County Counsel opinion finding that oil companies have “vested rights” under their antiquated permits, issued long before the enactment of modern environmental and public health laws, to drill as many wells as they want, in perpetuity, without additional discretionary review.  As detailed in EDC’s letter, the County Counsel’s opinion greatly overstates the scope of vested rights held by the oil companies, and unconstitutionally delegates the County’s duty to protect the health and safety of local residents.

“At a time when local oversight of oil production is needed more than ever, Ventura County is instead allowing oil companies free reign to drill under World War II era permits that do not include modern environmental and public health protections,” stated Brian Segee, Senior Attorney with EDC.  “We respectfully urge County Supervisors to reexamine the scope of vested rights held by these companies, and to ensure that the health of local residents and the environment is protected from increased oil drilling in general, and fracking and acidizing in particular.”

“It is time to close the back door that lets the oil and gas industry escape 21st century rules and regulations.  No other industry or individual can conduct potentially hazardous operations without disclosure and regulation in Ventura County.  This special treatment is dangerous, unfair and must be stopped,” stated John Brooks, President of CFROG.
“Most of Ventura County's oil drilling is in direct proximity to the county’s low-income immigrant communities, including the Santa Clara Valley, West Ventura, and Oxnard.  The lack of accountability and oversight for basic safety and environmental concerns in the rapid expansion of new oil wells using extreme drilling methods puts the health and well-being of Ventura County's most vulnerable populations in jeopardy,” said Maricela Morales, incoming Executive Director of CAUSE.
“The overwhelming majority of the scientific community is saying we are must slow down the current alarming rise in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, yet hundreds of new drilling permits, many involving fracking or acidizing, have recently been issued in Ventura County under ‘antiquated’ Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) that have not been updated in decades.  What we get is bad air, bad water, dangerous big rigs and even more dangerous train cars transporting dirty and volatile crude oil through our cities and county, with no real guarantees from local, state or national politicians that any of this activity is necessary, or healthy or safe. What could possibly go wrong?,” questioned Mike Stubblefield with Sierra Club, Los Padres Chapter.

“Audubon is concerned that, without oversight according to modern standards, there is the potential for significant adverse impact upon the recovering population of California condors.  Much of the renewed drilling activity is close to the condor’s territory in the Sespe.  Condor chicks are especially vulnerable to ‘micro trash’ which can be expected to increase.  We are also concerned about the handling and disposition of contaminated water and the disturbance of streambeds and other habitat during construction.  These issues were not a concern when the original permits were issued but, we feel, must be addressed today,” stated Bruce Schoppe, President of Ventura Audubon Society.

EDC’s letter on behalf of the four organizations closes with several policy recommendations, including: asking the Board of Supervisors to rescind the County Counsel vested rights opinion and antiquated permit policy; develop a transparent and detailed process for oil companies to claim vested rights; apply all current Ordinance requirements to all new oil drilling and redrilling proposals; develop a schedule for analyzing drilling proposals under the California Environmental Quality act (“CEQA”); and consult with appropriate state and federal agencies to ensure compliance with environmental laws including the federal Endangered Species Act and California Coastal Act.

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The Environmental Defense Center protects and enhances the environment of California's south central coast through education, advocacy, and legal action.  Learn more about EDC at
www.EnvironmentalDefenseCenter.org.

Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (“CAUSE”) works to build grassroots power to invoke social, economic and environmental justice for the people of California's Central Coast Region through policy research, leadership development, organizing, and advocacy.  Learn more about CAUSE at www.causenow.org.

Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas (“CFROG”) is a group of local residents working with elected officials, informed citizens and industry leaders to ensure effective oversight of oil and gas operations in Ventura County.  Learn more about CFROG at www.cfrog.org.
 
Sierra Club, Los Padres Chapter serves Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties in implementing the Sierra Club’s mission to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet.  Learn more about Sierra Club, Los Padres Chapter at https://lospadres2.sierraclub.org/.

Ventura Audubon Society works to promote at the local level, by education and action, the protection and restoration of bird populations and wildlife habitat for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biodiversity.  Learn more about Ventura Audubon Society at http://www.venturaaudubon.org/.





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