VENTURA, Calif.— Three conservation groups sued Ventura County today to halt a plan to drill 19 new oil wells along the Santa Paula Canyon Trail, a popular hiking trail that serves as a gateway to waterfalls, swimming holes, backcountry campsites and endangered species habitat in the Los Padres National Forest.
Despite objections from nearly 1,000 hikers and local residents and overwhelming expert scientific testimony, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved the oil wells on a 3-2 vote last month, relying in large part on an outdated environmental impact report prepared in 1978.
Today’s lawsuit, filed in Ventura County Superior Court by Los Padres ForestWatch, the Center for Biological Diversity and Citizens for Responsible Oil & Gas, says the county should have conducted a new study of the environmental risks of the project.
While authorizing the doubling of oil wells in the area, the county failed to evaluate and reduce significant noise, visual and public-safety impacts that oil drilling would cause to hikers on the trail. The county also failed to fully consider the risks posed by oil spills from a pipeline directly above steelhead habitat in Santa Paula Creek, contaminants draining from the drill site into the creek and California condors that are nesting in the canyon for the first time in more than a half-century.
The lawsuit urges the court to place the drilling project on hold until an adequate review is conducted to fully disclose all of the risks and damages of drilling.
The suit also challenges Ventura County’s failure to comply with the county’s zoning ordinance governing the processing of applications for oil wells. The ordinance requires the county to reject an application if a facility is in violation of the terms and conditions of an existing permit. A further violation of the zoning ordinance is alleged with an oil pad too close to the creek and a drain that empties into the creek .Conservation groups filed a formal complaint with county planners earlier this year outlining six longstanding violations at the facility that already put this area’s natural resources at risk. Despite these documented violations, the planning division processed the permit application instead of investigating and abating the violations.
In addition to Ventura County, today’s suit also names California Resources Corporation, the permit applicant and operator of 19 existing wells in Santa Paula Canyon, as as a “Real Party in Interest.” The company, a spinoff of global oil giant Occidental Petroleum, is the largest oil and gas exploration and production company in California, with more than $1.8 billion in revenues this year.
The petitioners are represented by the law firms of Chatten-Brown & Carstens of Los Angeles.
Head to SaveSantaPaulaCanyon.org for all the details.
Statements from Petitioners:
“Santa Paula Canyon is one of the crown jewels of Ventura County, with thousands of residents and visitors enjoying this wilderness destination each year,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, a nonprofit conservation organization based in Santa Barbara that works to protect the Los Padres National Forest. “More drilling here will ruin the outdoor recreation experience while reducing local tourism dollars and harming local businesses.”
“Everyone knows oil and water don’t mix,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The last thing endangered steelhead, recovering California condors and downstream farms and homes need is an oil spill. Ventura County ought to be protecting these incredible places, not turning them over to become industrial oil sites.”
“We are disappointed that we must go to court to force Ventura County to follow environmental laws that have been in place for years,” said John Brooks, president of Citizens for Responsible Oil & Gas. “It is our only option to guarantee a complete environmental review, and to ensure that proper safeguards are adopted.”
“The county failed to disclose the many significant impacts associated with drilling new oil wells adjacent to a popular hiking trail and endangered species habitat,” said Amy Minteer, a partner at Chatten-Brown & Carstens, the firm representing the conservation groups. “A subsequent environmental impact report is required to thoroughly analyze and mitigate those impacts before this project can move forward.”