Room Fills for County Hearing on Drilling Wells

Ventura County Star - 5-22-14

Reporter Cheri Carlson

A hearing on a proposal to drill wells in an abandoned oil field north of Piru drew a standing-room-only crowd in Ventura on Thursday.

About three dozen people crowded into a small conference room for the two-hour meeting at the Ventura County planning agency.

Most urged the county to require more environmental review before a decision was made on the permit, one of several proposals from oil and gas companies under review in Ventura County.

On Thursday, speakers, many from local group Citizens For Responsible Oil & Gas, cited concerns about effects on wildlife, residents and the county’s water supply.

The project’s two test wells will not include a well stimulation technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. But many speakers were concerned about fracking and whether the company had eliminated it from the project description to avoid additional review.

“We have five different oil company applications currently before us. All of those oil companies have chosen to remove fracking and acid well stimulation from their project descriptions,” said Brian Baca, a county planning manager.

The timing coincides with California’s adopting new regulations and requiring the state to complete a comprehensive environmental impact report, or EIR, that addresses fracking and acid well stimulation.

“I think the reason why (companies aren’t proposing fracking) is really pretty clear,” Baca said. “Why pay for your own EIR when the state is doing an EIR right now on that very topic?”

Several speakers asked whether the company could return to the county to modify the permit to include fracking without a public process to review its potential effects. Baca said such a change would result in an additional public process, including a hearing like the one held Thursday.

Dos Cuadros Offshore Resources seeks to drill, test and use the two oil wells in Modelo Canyon to determine whether it is commercially viable, according to the county’s report.

The project had an environ­mental review, and the company made some changes to address concerns. But speakers said the review did not go far enough. Several cited state law, saying they thought there was enough evidence of potential effects to require a full environ­mental ­impact ­report.

Jim Hines, conservation coordinator with the local chapter of the Sierra Club, said such a review should look at more than this one proposal.

Los Padres proposal

Los Padres National Forest is accepting comments on a proposal to add oil and gas wells in the Sespe Oil Field.

Comments must be received by June 4 and may be sent to Los Padres National Forest, Attn: Jonathan Schwartz, 1190 East Ojai Ave., Ojai, CA 93023. Comments also may be submitted by fax to 646-0484 or delivered during normal business hours.

People also may send comments to Include “Applications for Permit to Drill in the Sespe Oil Field” in the subject line.

Visit the United States Department of Agriculture website for more information about the proposal in Los Padres.

He was concerned about reviews of oil and gas permits happening on a piecemeal basis throughout the county, including on federal land in Los Padres National Forest. Officials should look at the cumulative environmental effects, he said.

One such project has been proposed for the nearby Sespe Oil Field. Seneca Resources Corp., of Texas, has applied for a permit to add eight oil and gas wells on four pads where oil wells currently are in operation, company officials said. Those wells likely would include fracking, a common practice in the Sespe.

Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, a nonprofit based in Santa Barbara, has commented on both proposals. In both cases, he has cited concerns about the potential for significant environmental effects.

His group has urged more environmental review of the projects, including looking at effects on nearby condor habitat.

On Thursday, Bruce Schoppe, president of the Ventura Audubon Society, spoke at hearing about the Modelo Canyon proposal in the Piru Oil Field.

“Broadly, our concern is for the loss of habitat, disruption of habitat and effect on birds and other wildlife,” Schoppe said. A lot of money has been spent to bring the birds back from the brink of extinction, and they are still threatened, he said.

Dos Cuadros Offshore Resources officials changed the proposal to address some concerns, including eliminating an upper oil pad. But proponents of additional environmental review said the potential for significant effects remain.

No decision was made Thursday. The county planning director has 40 days to decide on the Piru Oil Field permit.