December 11, 2020
Ventura County Star
DECEMBER 5, 2020
Ventura County Start Guest Column
The oil industry could be spending its spare millions cleaning up old oil wells, supporting their workers during the COVID crisis, or transitioning their business model to a clean energy future.
Instead, they are spending their extra money paying campaign staff to gather signatures for a referendum by petition. This petition-gathering effort could overturn a fair and balanced ordinance adopted by our county to ensure the most basic environmental review before drilling new wells.
Who is behind this petition?
The oil industry makes itself out to be a community partner in Ventura County. But this image does not align with their actions. First, industry players spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to tank the campaign of one of Ventura County’s most climate-conscious Supervisors. Second, they have already filed multiple lawsuits that challenge the environmental regulations in the General Plan Update, costing the county untold legal fees.
Now they are financially backing the newly-formed “Working Families for Jobs and Energy Independence” who are out collecting petition signatures. They hope to overturn a recent decision by the Board of Supervisors to adopt a new ordinance that requires basic, modern health and safety reviews of new oil operations, be it drilling a new well or using different extraction techniques (like fracking).
What does the new ordinance do?
Many of Ventura County’s oil and gas permits were issued back in the 1940s, decades before our current health & safety standards. The Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted to protect our community’s air, soil and water by requiring a modern-day, commonsense review of oil facility expansions.
The county's new ordinance that the oil industry is desperate to overthrow does not shut down all drilling in Ventura County. It does not take away everyone’s jobs. It only asks that the oil industry play by the same rules as everyone else when drilling new wells or expanding operations. The new ordinance simply requires oil & gas companies to go through the same kind of permit review process that daycares, restaurants, wineries, film productions – and countless others – do to get their permits.
But what about jobs?
The talking points given to paid campaign staff at petition tables across the county state that this referendum will “protect 2000 jobs” in Ventura County. That number exceeds the estimated total number of oil & gas jobs in Ventura County, in a report released in April 2019 by the VCCCD Economic Development Collaborative. On its own, the oil industry shed 32% of its workforce in Ventura County from 2011-2019.
And because the new ordinance only applies to facility expansions and new drilling, how exactly does it impact existing jobs?
So what happens if the oil industry collects enough signatures?
If enough signatures are gathered, the new ordinance would be suspended until it goes before the voters. Industry’s efforts could even force a special election that could cost Ventura County taxpayers over a million dollars. We, the Ventura County taxpayers, would foot the bill. And the oil industry would have bought an election by accosting shoppers during a pandemic, while exaggerating the ordinance’s effects and stirring up economic fears.
Who benefits? Certainly not us.
This is all about protecting the profits of the oil industry. Why else would the oil industry spend millions to avoid public health and safety reviews of new facility expansions which protect our air, soil, and water?
The oil industry’s deep pockets and ulterior motives should prompt people to look closely at the facts about their inevitable decline. According to a report by Axios, the oil industry in California shed 14% of its fossil fuel workforce in just five months, between March and June of this year. According to Just Transition Los Angeles, jobs in oil clean-up are more likely than oil production to be high-paying, skilled, family-sustaining positions with safe working conditions, good wages, benefits and ample opportunities for advancement.
The industry’s attempt to skirt environmental laws by fiat is selfish and shortsighted.
Why is the oil industry dragging the county into a costly, divisive ballot initiative during a pandemic?
What to do if you see petition-gatherers at a store near you?
Simply DO NOT SIGN. And spread the word to everyone you know.
If we decline to sign, we deprive the fire of oxygen, and it goes out.
November 10, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Rebecca August, Director of Advocacy, Los Padres ForestWatch [email protected] 805 770-8692
Liz Beall, Executive Director, Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas [email protected] 805-794-0282
Tomás Morales Rebecchi, Central Coast Organizing Manager, Food & Water Watch/Food &
Water Action [email protected] (805) 507-5083
Ventura County Tightens Outdated Oil Permitting to Better Protect Public Health, Water Supplies, and the Environment
Ventura, CA — Today the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to update the County’s Zoning Ordinances for oil and gas wells operating under antiquated Conditional Use Permits. Thousands of oil wells in Ventura County operate under “antiquated permits” that were issued up to 75 years ago—before environmental and human health impacts were known, and long before bedrock environmental laws existed. Many of these wells are located within or adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest. Others are dangerously close to drinking water supplies and communities like Ventura, Oxnard, and Fillmore.
Hundreds of community members and environmental and climate justice organizations sent letters and called in to speak at the hearing in support of updated oil permitting to better protect the health and safety of the community, the climate, and public lands.
“What the County essentially did was close a loophole that allowed some oil companies to skirt modern laws that protect public health, precious water supplies, our public lands, and the environment,” said ForestWatch’s director of advocacy Rebecca August. “Now all new oil development and operations will be subject to the same rules that other businesses in Ventura County must follow.”
Last fall, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors directed County staff to update oil drilling ordinances so that new wells drilled or fracked under these antiquated permits would be subject to greater transparency and environmental review. Over the summer, the Planning Commission recommended rule changes that would immediately require all new and expanded oil extraction activities in Ventura County to be reviewed carefully for compliance with modern health, safety, and environmental standards.
“Antiquated permits never expire. They allow for indefinite expansion without regulation. So long as they were allowed, they made Ventura County’s modern oil and gas regulations essentially meaningless.” Said Liz Beall, Executive Director at CFROG. “Today, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors told oil operators that they have to play by the same rules as everyone else – by simply requiring that new drilling and expansion follow modern health and safety standards.”
Under current rules governing antiquated permits, an oil company only needs to submit a short application along with a $330 permit fee to receive a “zoning clearance” to drill or frack a well in Ventura County. A zoning clearance process is considered ministerial, in that if the applicant checks all the boxes and pays the fee, the county must approve it, no discretion is allowed. Other ministerial actions include marriage licenses and backyard gazebos.
Most antiquated permits have no limit on the number of wells that can be drilled, have no expiration date, and do not stipulate what extraction techniques can be used. Under antiquated permits, new wells are approved without public notice or hearing and have never undergone environmental review.
"The oil company that benefited most from these antiquated permits and the biggest driller in our county is AERA Energy,” said Food and Water Watch central coast organizing manager Tomás Morales Rebecchi. “This is also one of the operators Ventura County should be worried most about when it comes to leaving a legacy of toxic oil wells that will need tax payers dollars to clean up. Aera Energy has only set aside $80.29 per oil well for clean up, the least amount of any oil company in California, when the average cost of clean up is $68,000 and may be much higher. We are glad AERA will no longer have the ability to drill as many wells as they want with no environmental review, when they are not even setting aside the responsible amount needed to clean up their current wells."
This update will subject all new oil development permitting to discretionary review and will only apply to new wells. A wide range of land uses in Ventura County are currently permitted through discretionary review, including wineries, day care centers, bed and breakfasts, schools, renewable energy production, film production, camps, and campgrounds. Discretionary review of these permit applications simply ensures that all current health, safety, and environmental requirements are met.
Environmental groups including CFROG, Food and Water Action, Sierra Club, and ForestWatch have been raising concerns about these loopholes for years and feel gratified by the final vote. And a coalition of twenty environmental and labor groups came together to urge the Board of Supervisors to adopt these new permitting requirements, including LULAC de Camarillo, 350.org, Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), and the Social Justice Fund for Ventura County.
“We applaud the board for protecting Ventura County from the harmful impacts that dangerously under-regulated oil development would have on public health, precious water resources, public lands, and the environment,” said August.
“One of the oldest wells in the United States was drilled in 1864. It is in Ojai, within a few feet of San Antonio Creek. The antiquated permits handed out to oil operators prior to 1960 are exactly that – antiquated. They were issued prior to our modern understanding of the hazards of petroleum production, and prior to the development of science-backed health and safety standards. They pre-date the existence of the Environmental Protection Agency.” Said Liz Beall, CFROG’s Executive Director, “Today the Ventura County Board of Supervisors exercised common sense in asking oil operators to bring all new operations up to contemporary standards. It is a great day for the health, safety, and welfare of our communities.”
The board failed to achieve the 4-1 vote necessary to pass part of the measure that would have funded the establishment of one regular full-time position in the planning division to support the ordinance changes. The position would be paid for by fees at no cost to the county. Both Supervisors Long and Huber voted against the proposal. Without the additional staff member, applicant waiting times would likely increase as current staff juggles the additional workload. Consideration of the staffing issue will be taken up at the next meeting of the board as a separate item.
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Los Padres ForestWatch protects wildlife, wilderness, water, and sustainable access throughout the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument. We achieve this through education, advocacy, and when necessary, legal action for the benefit of our communities, climate, and future generations.
CFROG is a climate watchdog, dedicated to combating the climate crisis by working to shape the transition from fossil fuels to a carbon-free economy on California's Central Coast.
Food & Water Action is the political advocacy arm of the research and education organization Food & Water Watch. We mobilize people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water and climate problems of our time.
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