Draft Report Reveals Significant Environmental Impacts of Fracking in Ventura County’s Sespe Oil Field

Fillmore, Calif. – Today, officials with the California Department of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources released a long-awaited report revealing several “significant and unavoidable” environmental impacts caused by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and oil drilling throughout the state. The report also takes a detailed look at three oil fields, concluding that fracking in the Sespe Oil Field poses serious hazards to the Los Padres National Forest and to the small rural community of Fillmore downstream in Ventura County.

The report, released today, identifies 7 “significant and unavoidable” Class I impacts caused by fracking in the Sespe Oil Field, including air pollution, odors, safety hazards involving transport of oil, pipeline leaks, and spills of hazardous fracking fluid. The report also identifies an additional 12 potentially significant impacts from fracking in the Sespe Oil Field, including impacts to California condors and other wildlife, wetlands, Native American cultural sites, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Specifically, the report concludes:

Based upon the detailed programmatic analysis for the Wilmington, Inglewood, and Sespe Oil and Gas Fields, significant and unavoidable (Class I) impacts could occur at a field-specific level, contingent on site-specific conditions. For all three fields these impacts are related to air quality, biological resources (terrestrial environment), cultural resources, greenhouse gas emissions, recreation, risk of upset/public and worker safety, and transportation and traffic.

The report also identifies Alternative 1 (prohibiting all current and future fracking and other high-intensity well stimulation activities) as the environmentally superior alternative for the Sespe Oil Field.

“This report confirms our worst fears – that fracking in the Los Padres National Forest has caused and will continue to cause significant risks to the environment, outdoor recreation, and public health,” said Jeff Kuyper, the executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, a nonprofit organization working to protect the Los Padres National Forest. “Consistent with the findings in this report, our national forest should be placed off-limits to fracking immediately. We cannot risk ruining this treasured landscape and threatening the water supply of downstream communities.”

The state legislature mandated preparation of the report as part of SB4, which was enacted into law in 2013. It requires state oil and gas officials to prepare the first-ever set of regulations governing fracking throughout the state, mandates preparation of an independent environmental study, and requires publication of an Environmental Impact Report to provide the public with detailed information regarding the potential impacts of fracking and other high-intensity well stimulation throughout the state. The EIR must be finalized by July 1, 2015. Officials hope to release the independent scientific study sometime later this year.

The regulations mandated by SB4 were finalized earlier this month, and take effect in July. The Draft EIR questions whether the regulations are enough to adequately protect the Los Padres National Forest and other areas throughout California from the risks associated with fracking. “Implementation of DOGGR’s proposed permanent regulations has yet to occur, and thus their long-term effectiveness, with or without application of the standards for resource protection and mitigation measures recommended in this EIR, cannot be predicted with certainty at this time.”

About the Sespe Oil Field

The Sespe Oil Field was specifically highlighted in the EIR because it is located in one of the most remote and environmentally sensitive areas in the state. Unlike the other two oil fields specifically evaluated in the report, the Sespe Oil Field “contains extensive natural habitat areas and supports fish and wildlife populations that are at risk of falling below self-sustaining levels,” according to the draft EIR.

The lands in and around the oil field provide important habitat for endangered California condors, including the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, and the Sespe Wilderness. The headwaters of several mountain streams originate in the Sespe Oil Field before emptying into Sespe Creek, which is formally-designated critical habitat for endangered southern steelhead and is classified as an “Area of High Ecological Significance” by the U.S. Forest Service. It contains prime habitat for endangered species like the California condor, southern steelhead, arroyo toads, and California red-legged frogs.

The Los Padres National Forest is the only forest in California with oil drilling and fracking taking place within its boundaries. Oil wells in the Sespe Oil Field have been fracked 18 times in the last three years, without any public notice or environmental studies and with minimal regulatory oversight. More fracking occurs in the Sespe Oil Field than anywhere else between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

An oil company is currently seeking permission to frack eight wells in the Sespe Oil Field over the course of the next two years. The U.S. Forest Service conducted an initial public comment period and is currently determining whether to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. Today’s Draft EIR reveals that the company “will continue at a similar rate over the next 25 years,” meaning that nearly 100 wells may be fracked in the Sespe Oil Field during that time.

Next Steps

The Draft EIR will be available for public review and comment until March 16, 2015. The Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources will also conduct six public hearings, including one in Ventura on Tuesday, February 10, 2015 from 5-8pm. That hearing will take place at the Ventura College Performing Arts Center, 4700 Loma Vista Road in Ventura.

ForestWatch will provide testimony at that hearing, carefully review the Draft EIR, and submit detailed comments to ensure that the Los Padres National Forest and surrounding communities are protected from the environmental impacts of fracking and other high-intensity well stimulation treatments.

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