Los Padres ForestWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity have filed an appeal of the Ventura County planning commission’s approval of 19 new oil wells along a popular hiking trail in Santa Paula Canyon. The appeal temporarily halts the commission’s approval of a zoning clearance – a preliminary approval that the oil company must obtain prior to drilling in the canyon. No new drilling in the canyon can proceed until the appeal is resolved.
The Planning Commission approved the zoning clearance at a hearing on September 7. As part of the zoning clearance process, the oil company must submit documentation to prove that it has complied with a preliminary set of steps outlined in its permit. But the company has failed to fulfill key requirements.
“It is unconscionable that the Ventura County Planning Commission would give a green light to begin oil drilling in Santa Paula Canyon when even the most basic permit conditions have not been met,” said Jeff Kuyper, ForestWatch executive director. “We are filing this appeal to restore accountability to the County’s permitting process, and to ensure that the oil industry complies with standards to protect the environment.”
“Drilling a slew of oil wells in Santa Paula Canyon threatens incredibly important habitat for wildlife, including California condors,” said Ileene Anderson, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Planning Commission needs to enforce the simple, lawful measures previously put in place to protect all county residents. We’ve got to safeguard this beautiful place from oil industry pollution.”
The groups’ appeal states that the Planning Commission wrongfully issued the zoning clearance, citing the oil company’s failure to prove that it had fulfilled these preliminary permit requirements. Specifically, the groups note in their appeal that the oil company failed to:
- Provide proof of liability insurance to cover expenses associated with an oil spill or other disaster, naming the County of Ventura as additionally insured.
- Prove implementation of all measures to protect endangered California condors, including installation of anti-perching and anti-collision devices on power poles and guy wires, use of non-toxic wildlife-friendly antifreeze in vehicles that enter the drilling areas, installation of signs and landing deterrents on equipment, and policies requiring daily cleanup of microtrash that is a known cause of injury and death to condors.
- Install required landscaping and submit a full landscaping plan as required by the Ventura County Landscape Design Criteria. The landscaping plan was required in 2015 to shield the drilling sites from view of the hiking trail.
Lawsuit Hearing Postponed
In a related matter, Ventura County Superior Court Judge DeNoce postponed opening arguments in the long-awaited trial in a lawsuit over this project brought by ForestWatch, the Center, and Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas. The hearing was initially scheduled for September 11, but has been rescheduled to December 4.
The groups sued the County of Ventura and two oil companies – Carbon California Company LLC and Seneca Resources – in November 2015, alleging that the county approved the drilling of 19 new oil wells without first preparing an Environmental Impact Report. The groups were particularly concerned about impacts to an adjacent hiking trail that is a popular year-round destination for visitors to the Los Padres National Forest, along with impacts to endangered California condors and possible oil spills and contamination in Santa Paula Creek.