No new tar sands

Protect our water 

Approved by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors at their Nov. 5, 2019 meeting:
Urgency Ordinance to Temporarily Prohibit County Approval of New Wells, and Re-Drilling of Existing Wells, for Oil Production that Will Utilize Steam Injection in the Vicinity of Potable Groundwater Aquifers.

The extension will be for a period of one year.

UPDATE: County shuts down operations at tar sands drilling site due to multiple violations. Read more here.

Why was this temporary ban needed?
A recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report found petroleum-related gases in two Oxnard-area groundwater wells sited directly over cyclic steam oil recovery operations, and possibly a third. An operator proposed 79 new tar sands wells near multiple water wells between Oxnard and Camarillo. This operator has been cited with numerous permit violations.

What are the oil operators doing under the Fox Canyon aquifer, a vital source of water to agriculture and residents?
Operators have been in this area since 1937 and have produced about 10 million barrels of oil. They are now working to wring oil out of tar sands at the 1,800-2,300 foot level. The lower aquifer system goes down to a level of about 1,700 feet.

What is cyclic steam injection?
Steam injection is an extreme method of extraction and has been known to damage underground well infrastructure and open fissures in the ground. Wells are drilled down into the tar sands and then 1,000 to 3,000 feet over. Steel casings are fed into the well and steam is injected into the tar sands, heating the layer until the heavy oil can be extracted.

What has been found in our Oxnard water wells?
Scientists have detected methane in levels just under the explosive range, propane, ethane, isobutane and n-pentane. USGS scientists are not yet certain where these gases migrated from and have recommended more testing, but the working theory is they originated from the cyclic steam activity that lies directly underneath. More results are due in 2020.

USGS scientists working in the Orcutt field to our north found evidence of oil-field fluids in water wells near other cyclic steam and acidizing operations, so the Oxnard find is not isolated in this new testing required by SB 4 (2013).

Will the moratorium stop all oil drilling activity?
No. It only applies to the approval of new wells, or the re-drilling of old wells, using steam injection near aquifers with potable water in the moratorium zone. It does not affect current operations.

What else is CFROG concerned about?
The operator has been cited by county inspectors for numerous violations of its permit on one of its two drilling sites. On the other site, they are under a voluntary order to clean up a spill by another operator from 2010. None of these issues has been remedied.

We believe that the permits originally issued for this oilfield in 1955, which predate the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970, should be moved to a discretionary status in order to allow more oversight and assessment of the environmental impacts of new oil drilling techniques.

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 of Supervisors voted on Sept. 9 to direct county counsel to bring back an ordinance which would provide more oversight.