The first oil well in Santa Paula Canyon was drilled in 1971, and over the years a total of 17 wells have followed, along with a network of pipelines, storage tanks, and other infrastructure, all added with little or no environmental review. California Resources Corporation – a spinoff of global oil giant Occidental Petroleum Corporation – recently took over the facility, and applied for permission to drill 19 additional wells and continue oil extraction here for another 30 years.
The 19 new oil wells are proposed at four locations on the historic Ferndale Ranch adjacent to Thomas Aquinas College; several or all of them could be located along the East Fork Santa Paula Creek Trail. After reviewing the company’s proposal, County planning staff concluded that no additional environmental impact report is necessary. Instead, they merely prepared a 9-page addendum to a 30-year-old EIR. That 1985 EIR only addresses truck access to and from the drilling sites, and doesn’t address a series of new information and changed circumstances that have occurred at the site over the last three decades.
Santa Paula Canyon is one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in Ventura County, providing habitat for several rare and imperiled wildlife including southern steelhead and California condors. The area also serves as one of the most popular gateways to trails, backcountry camps, swimming holes, and waterfalls in the Los Padres National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that as many as 100,000 people use this trail every year, many venturing to a series of swimming holes and waterfalls called The Punchbowl.
The site is also part of the original Chumash village of Sisa, the largest of the inland village sites and considered by archaeologists to be of the “highest significance” in understanding the entire Chumash economic sphere and social network. The surrounding land uses – including an avocado ranch, national forest land, and a quaint college campus – are incompatible with intensive oil development. The operation has a long history of significant permit violations, which have placed this area at great risk.
Days before the Planning Division issued its decision to approve the drilling, ForestWatch submitted a letter to county officials outlining a series of permit violations that currently exist at the facility. These violations include:
- failing to install landscaping to shield the oil wells from view of the hiking trail;
- failing to work with the U.S. Forest Service to reroute the trail away from the wells;
- failing to implement basic security measures, such as preventing public access to oil facilities and rerouting a road to prevent runaway vehicles;
- failing to protect a pipeline suspended across Santa Paula Creek from flooding risks;
- preventing intrusion of pollutants and hazardous runoff into groundwater; and
- failing to notify Thomas Aquinas College about recent fracking and acidizing operations.
In addition, County inspectors have failed to conduct a periodic compliance review of the site. The facility has a long history of significant permit violations, placing this area’s natural resources at great risk.
Presently, the Ventura County Planning Commission approved the oil wells in June 2015. Los Padres ForestWatch and our partners, the Center for Biological Diversity and Citizens for Responsible Oil & Gas, immediately filed an appeal to the Board of Supervisors. The Board will consider our appeal during a hearing on October 20, 2015. Until the appeal is resolved, the drilling may not proceed.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Attend the Hearing
The board of Supervisors will consider approving these wells on October 20, 2015 at 1:30 pm at the Ventura County Government Center, 800 Victoria Ave in Ventura. Attend this hearing to show your support for Santa Paula Canyon.
Write a Letter
Tell our elected officials how important this canyon is to you, and how you want to see it protected from industrial development and oil spills. Visit our website to send your personalized letter with the click of a button. Easy!
Our volunteers, staff and experts are working overtime to prepare for the hearing, and if all else fails, we’ll need to file a lawsuit to protect the canyon. Your financial support makes all the difference as we go up against California’s biggest oil company.