EDC Calls on Ventura County to Strengthen Oversight of Oil Production
More than any other industry, oil and gas companies have been provided with loopholes and exemptions from bedrock federal environmental laws including the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act. In California, these holes in environmental protections are further aggravated by the longstanding inadequate oversight of the state’s primary oil regulator, the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, or “DOGGR.”
With both federal and state protections lacking, the role of local County and City governments in protecting the health and safety of residents and the environment from the impacts of oil production is particularly vital. EDC has been working for years to push local governments to strengthen regulations on risky well stimulation techniques. Within EDC’s tri-county service area, both Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties have helped step up to fill this gap left by state and federal agencies, catalyzed by concern over the increased use of hydraulic fracturing, acidizing, and other forms of “well stimulation.”
In 2012, Santa Barbara County became the first local government in California to address fracking after it was discovered that oil companies had fracked outside of the town of Los Alamos without prior notice to neighbors or County regulators. Since the unanimous vote by County Supervisors to require that oil companies undergo more stringent environmental analysis for fracking proposals, no applications for fracking have been submitted (significant oil development is still occurring, however, largely utilizing “steam injection”).
In 2014, Ventura County followed suit by requiring oil companies to provide advance notice of fracking or acidizing, as well as disclosure of important environmental information including the source and quantity of fresh water needed for the operations, as well as the quantity and disposal site of waste byproducts including “frac flowback.”
The impact of Ventura County’s modest action, however, has been overshadowed by legal exemptions provided to oil companies operating within the boundaries of “antiquated” permits typically issued many decades ago—as long ago as the 1940s. In a recent two-year period, nearly 95% of well drilling in the County– totaling more than 400 wells—received such exemptions pursuant to a County Counsel opinion concluding that the companies have “vested rights” to drill as many wells as they want, where they want, in perpetuity without further environmental review.
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.
On April 28, EDC took action 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, to address this enormous gap in local oversight, informing the Board of Supervisors of its belief that the County Counsel has greatly overstated the scope of vested rights held by the oil companies, and providing several recommendations to remedy the situation.
EDC is awaiting a response to its letter, and hopes to work cooperatively with the Board and County staff to implement its recommendations.
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