A long-standing concern for Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas has been the issue of what to do with land which has been contaminated with the remnants of oil and gas infrastructure. It's a problem we will need to tackle as we transition away from fossil fuels.
The motley history of the now abandoned Petrochem site just north of Ventura has for decades given city and county officials pause when mulling future uses. From its inception in the 1950s as a fertilizer manufacturer, to a later use as a refinery for crude oil which processed 20,000 barrels a day and stored hundreds of thousands more in tanks, the property has been controversial.
An industrial accident at the site in 1978 killed one worker and injured four others. According to a letter written to the Planning Commission in 1983 by a worker, “Spills and mechanical breakdowns were so common that we employees would play games to see who could predict the next one.”
The site was finally shuttered in 1984 after Citizens to Preserve the Ojai stopped plans for an expansion claiming it was an environmental hazard. The Environmental Protection Agency ordered a cleanup which was largely completed in 2014, but questions remain on the thoroughness of the effort.
CFROG is encouraged when we see projects like Cenergy’s proposal for a solar farm on a former Superfund site near Fillmore. The area was once home to a Texaco refinery. We also applaud a proposal just north of the Petrochem site by the Trust for Public Land for a restoration of native riparian habitat.
But the Montecito owner of this property has proposed housing, which was shot down by the Board of Supervisors in 2018, and now an auto and contractor equipment storage yard.
Activists, including CFROG, packed a small conference room on Oct. 14 to protest the latest proposal during its first hearing. Not only is this a site of questionable environmental safety but it has the compounding problem of its location in a floodplain in the delicate ecosystem of the Ventura River.
Moreover, emissions from the new vehicle trips proposed would lead straight into the sensitive Ojai Valley, which has its own strict rules for pollution sources due to the unique geological vulnerability of the area.
Speakers also noted its location just over a mile away from an area listed by CalEnviro Screen as an Environmental Justice Community, already overburdened by pollution. The largest oil field in the county also surrounds the site.
Another wrinkle appeared at the hearing. Although the new proposal was touted by the owner's land-use consulting firm as the potential site for new cars shipped in from the Port of Hueneme to be stored and prepped, it was apparently just a pipe dream. Officials from the port attended the hearing to also protest the new use and relayed that they had surveyed all their auto customers and not one had expressed interest in storing cars at this remote and controversial site.
The many objections raised made it clear there was not enough information to make any kind of a decision on the proposal. Much more environmental review is needed and questions answered. Ventura County Planning Director Dave Ward took in all the oral and written commentary and promised to respond within 30-40 days.
We believe it is time for the ecologically sensitive area north of Ventura to move from polluting uses of the land to those which contribute to sustainable practices and preservation of this valuable natural area.
On Tuesday, the county put the oil and gas industry on notice that environmental oversight matters.
This is a group that is used to having its way with minimal permitting attention from the county, which has authority to inspect everything above the ground. Below the ground, the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) rules.
How is this possible? The vast majority of new wells are covered under very old permits for adjacent operations and don’t require modern environmental review. Some permits go back 50-70 years. Some don’t have them at all.
CFROG has long pushed for these “antiquated Conditional Use Permits” to be scuttled in favor of a process that would ask each applicant to submit to the same review drilling operations without these legacy permits undergo. We are heartened that the county’s legal team now agrees with us.
Under a staff recommendation, the board voted 4-1, with Supervisor Kelly Long dissenting, to direct county counsel to bring back an ordinance which would provide more oversight. And in a second motion, they asked that a way be found to prevent a run on these types of permits until the ordinance can be finalized.
The oil industry understands that its days are waning as the march toward renewables proceeds. And in the interim, we believe asking for equal environmental review for all new projects is smart.
The inspiration to move our economy away from fossil fuels has come from the bold action Californians have taken. We have developed policies that are being emulated around the world. The Chinese asked us for advice before starting their own cap and trade program. Automakers have joined with us in taking a stand for fuel economy against the backward ways of the Trump administration.
We are the cutting edge. We are leading the pack for the U.S. And we will be proud to tell our grandchildren some day that yes, we saw the planet struggling and we took a stand.
Oxnard has long borne more than its share of industrial pollution. While most coastal cities have traditionally kept their coast pristine for residents and tourists, this city’s beaches are marred by power plants and the toxic remnants of the old Halaco plant, now a Superfund site.
So it is no wonder that this community has risen up twice in the last few months to successfully demand an end to oilfield expansion. It is also not surprising that last year residents stopped a new power plant from being built on the beach — and won. Recently the Port of Hueneme agreed to do a full Environmental Impact Report on a planned expansion, in part due to resident requests.
Local governments are now more aware of environmental justice issues. According to Communities for a Better Environment, low-income communities of color are at higher risk for asthma, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, cancer, and birth defects. And those same communities tend to be stressed by poverty, unemployment, and inadequate access to health care or healthful food choices.
Senate Bill 1000, passed in 2016, mandated that cities and counties lessen the impact of pollution on these neighborhoods.
It is in this context, and with strong grassroots help, that CFROG and its partner organization Food & Water Watch worked to place a moratorium on new cyclic steam oil drilling in the tar sands of the Oxnard Plain on April 23 and helped to stop the expansion of another oilfield nearby on July 23. These actions taken by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors were an unprecedented and welcome move to protect the people of Oxnard.
Low-income communities surround Oxnard's oil fields. In the July 23 action, Supervisors voted 4-1, with Supervisor Kelly Long dissenting, to have staff draft a resolution to deny the expansion of the Cabrillo Oil Field. Some residents of the Oxnard Pacific Mobile Estates are within 1,660 feet of drilling, and are surrounded by pesticide use in the neighboring fields AND breathe the diesel exhaust from the busy truck route on Highway 1.
When we contacted these residents to let them know of the impending new oil wells in their back yard, they told us that nobody listens to them.
We are happy to report that this time somebody did.
Can a small climate-oriented nonprofit make a dent in the world's most urgent problem?
We subscribe firmly to Margaret Mead's theory that a thoughtful band of citizens is always the beginning of every movement. The push for policies that will slow the catastrophic effects of climate change needs to begin everywhere and at once.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change clearly warned that we have only a few years in which to make a rapid transition away from our reliance on fossil fuels if we are to preserve even a medium chance of avoiding devastating climate impacts. And what better way than to advocate for policies that affect this transition than general plans, the blueprints for how communities grow?
We have seen in California that our early, groundbreaking policies to reduce emissions have spread to other states, the nation and the world. The Chinese looked to California policymakers for advice on setting up their own cap and trade program.
And so we are pushing, and pushing hard for Ventura County's planners to join us in working for real, measurable goals that the county can set and look back on to reduce emissions. We have brought in our experts, including Kevin Bundy, from the prestigious environmental law firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, to comment and instruct local groups on best policies for asking for change. On our advisory board is nationally recognized air quality expert Dr. Steven Colome and he has submitted his own set of comments on our behalf.
As Dr. Colome wrote, "While the emission reduction goals of the draft General Plan are laudable, and in accord with goals of the State of California, the draft Climate Action Plan is essentially a business-as-usual plan that fails to provide enough emission reduction to meet, or even make a sizable dent, toward the state-mandated climate goals."
With this in mind, we propose big, bold steps:
• New oil and gas development should be prohibited and existing oil and gas production should be phased out over the 20-year life of the General Plan.
• In the absence of a complete prohibition on new wells, the county should require all new oil wells and proposed expansion of existing wells to apply for discretionary permits which will provide more complete oversight under the California Environmental Quality Act.
If you want to submit your own comment, go here.
Citizens for Responsible Oil & Gas is now Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas. Why the change?
Following the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, our board of directors felt strongly we needed to better reflect the reality our planet is faced with.
The IPCC clearly warned that we have only a few years in which to make a rapid transition away from reliance on fossil fuels if we are to preserve even a medium chance of avoiding devastating climate impacts. Given the latest science, CFROG recognizes that it can no longer advocate for “responsible” oil and gas development. The organization’s new name reflects and sets the stage for its renewed purpose: transitioning our communities from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy.
We will continue to be your effective watchdog on dangerous and dirty oil industry practices, but are expanding our capacity to take on issues such as the inclusion of a robust climate action plan in Ventura County’s new General Plan, and a new citizen-driven air quality monitoring program.
We also have a new executive director, Marie Lakin, who joins us from the State Assembly and Senate where she worked on climate- and oil and gas-related legislation. She will be working out of our new office at 940 E. Santa Clara, Suite 201, Ventura.