Ventura County Takes Steps Toward Limiting Oil Production Near National Forest

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Sespe Oil Field by Bryant Baker
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Source: Los Padres ForestWatch

[On Friday], the county’s Planning Commission took a bold step toward drawing down oil development by limiting a request filed by Carbon California to renew an oil and gas permit. The move sets a precedent for future oil development in the county. 

The oil company sought permission to continue operation of two existing oil wells and one wastewater injection well and to redrill existing wells in the Sespe Oil Field. The county’s Planning Director approved that permit extension in October, allowing the company to extract oil and dispose of wastewater for another twenty years. That decision was then appealed by local conservation organizations Los Padres ForestWatch, Climate First: Replacing Oil and Gas, and Keep Sespe Wild.

It is the first conditional use permit (CUP) in the Sespe Oil Field to be updated in a quarter century and will lay the groundwork for other CUP extensions expected to be filed in coming years.

In today’s unanimous vote, the commission approved the permit request but restricted its renewal from twenty years to ten, placed a limit on the number of times a well could be redrilled from unlimited to just one, and required full reclamation and restoration of an abandoned oil pads at the site. The restrictions are a step toward alignment with the state's policy of phasing out oil production and the County's new guidelines, outlined by its General Plan, which call for a 41% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

"Today's action signals that the County of Ventura takes seriously its obligation to move a step closer towards a clean energy future,” said ForestWatch executive director Jeff Kuyper. “We'll continue to do everything we can to ensure that the forest, downstream communities, and our climate are safeguarded from fossil fuel extraction." 

The permit is one of 19 CUPs governing more than 200 oil wells in the Sespe Oil Field. Most of these facilities operated under “antiquated permits” that were approved more than a half-century ago, before the advent of modern environmental laws and with no limit to the number of wells. The Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved a program in 2019 to bring these permits in line with current environmental and public health standards, but that effort was put on hold after the oil industry filed eleven different lawsuits and launched a million-dollar campaign to place the matter on the June 2022 ballot.

“As California moves toward phasing out oil extraction by 2045 and the climate crisis continues to intensify, extraction permit renewals like this require a high level of analysis and consideration,” said CFROG executive director Shannon Simpson. “It’s past time we take these important steps forward to secure a carbon-free energy future for our own health and safety and for the preservation of the natural landscape that delights and sustains us.”

The Sespe Oil Field is just upstream from Fillmore's only source of water for drinking and irrigation, is home to critical habitat for endangered southern steelhead, and is at the nexus of efforts to reintroduce endangered California condors to the wild. Thousands of visitors pass through the area each year to access trailheads, streams, waterfalls, and campsites in the Sespe Wilderness. The oil lease is adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest and is bisected by Little Sespe Creek, an important tributary to Sespe Creek which itself is a major tributary to the Santa Clara River.

The commission declined to adopt other requests in the appeal, such as addressing ongoing permit compliance issues at the facility and requiring new environmental studies to update the 28-year-old environmental document currently in place which does not account for new information and conditions, cumulative emissions from the Sespe Oil Field, or impacts to climate change, environmental justice, water resources, and wildlife. However, the new permit will be subject to new surety bonding requirements developed by the county if they are instituted within the next 24 months to make sure that the burden of cleanup does not fall to the taxpayers. 

Appellants:

Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas (CFROG) is dedicated to combating the climate crisis by working to shape the transition from fossil fuels to a carbon-free economy on California’s Central Coast.

Keep Sespe Wild is a non-profit watershed conservation organization begun early in 1988, to preserve Sespe Creek, one of Southern California's last free-flowing rivers.

Los Padres ForestWatch protects wildlife, wilderness, water, and sustainable access throughout the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument. 

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Chip of SB Feb 21, 2022 02:33 PM
Ventura County Takes Steps Toward Limiting Oil Production Near National Forest

Only a fraction of each barrel of oil is used for fuel. The rest makes all the products that we take for granted which make modern life possible. Flooring, textiles, solar panels, and pretty much anything you can think of. Try to go for one day without using anything made of oil. I bet you can’t do it. This is not really about phasing out oil, it’s about raising prices. The oil will come from places with less costly environmental and labor regulations like South America, Africa, and the Middle East. The effect will be to lower the cost of production and increase the cost to the consumer. In the process we will sacrifice the environment and human rights where the drilling takes place outside of the USA.

Chip of SB Feb 21, 2022 04:40 PM
Ventura County Takes Steps Toward Limiting Oil Production Near National Forest

General, how are you going to grow the hemp without diesel powered modern agricultural equipment? Are you proposing a return to 19th century farming practices and horse drawn equipment? Not only that, how would you propose to feed the world’s population if we do away with oil products?

GeneralTree Feb 21, 2022 04:47 PM
Ventura County Takes Steps Toward Limiting Oil Production Near National Forest

Chip, you've inferred so much from my very simple comment - and then got really angry about it. The same kind of angry pushback that Dow and big oil give to any type of alternative fuel or plastic. Are you working in the oil industry? You always seem to be the first to chime in on their defense.

Chip of SB Feb 21, 2022 03:57 PM
Ventura County Takes Steps Toward Limiting Oil Production Near National Forest

It’s interesting how people love consuming products, but are opposed to the process of making them at the same time. I have always said that anyone who is unwilling kill and prepare an animal should not be allowed to eat meat. I think the same should go for oil. If you’re not willing to live with oil production, then you shouldn’t be allowed to consume oil products.

GeneralTree Feb 21, 2022 04:53 PM
Ventura County Takes Steps Toward Limiting Oil Production Near National Forest

Chip -is also of that old boomer mindset of never being able to change anything because it's too hard - or thinking up too many limitations why you can't do or change something. All while protecting big oil and Dow Chemical - I'm guessing to stock ownership or employed in one of these industries.

JB86 Feb 21, 2022 08:11 PM
Ventura County Takes Steps Toward Limiting Oil Production Near National Forest

The Russians and OPEC countries must be laughing up their sleeves as they watch America go fossil-fuel-free and throttle oil production. The 'Tesla Class' is fine with it, but the lower income Americans are going to pay the price, as usual. Might be nice to see some middle ground, but it isn't visible at the moment.

JB86 Feb 21, 2022 11:11 PM
Ventura County Takes Steps Toward Limiting Oil Production Near National Forest

You have things exactly backwards 'General'. I'm just pointing out that the poorest of us cannot afford Teslas, nor solar panels, nor the batteries to support them. Great technologies but the transition is tough on people with few resources. Choking off petro feels good for the environmental elite, but is going to be painful for many.
I think you are right that capitalism will ultimately solve the issue, if allowed to operate, just question the forced march without understanding the effects on the poorest and mitigating it.
As to 'Republicans love Russia and want them to invade Ukraine,' that is patently ridiculous . Please recall how Democrats opposed provision of military aid to Ukraine throughout the Obama Admin.

ChillinGrillin Feb 22, 2022 11:30 PM
Ventura County Takes Steps Toward Limiting Oil Production Near National Forest

JB86: Why would OPEC and the neo-Soviets be laughing about losing money and having rivals transition to the next, better energy source? If anything they're scared and scrambling to copy us. China is trying to hack and steal trade secrets to jerry-rig a tech sector. Russia and China are making wannabe Silicon Valleys and separate internet infrastructures. Saudi Arabia and gulf states are scrambling to diversify their economies before their oil revenues decline and the same demographic and geographic stressors as the Arab Spring re-emerge. Virtually the only valuable resource in vast frozen tundras and deserts is oil. If these dictatorships can no longer sell what's underneath them, their subjects have little to gain from supporting them and they can't rule with fear very effectively or for very long. Oil makes up 60% of Russian exports and 30% of their GDP. If the West develops rare earth element and lithium supplies and makes electricity a more profitable energy source while phasing out oil subsidies, OPEC and Putin are screwed. Lithium is almost all from pro-US countries (Australia, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia) while about 70% of cobalt is from the Congo.

Lucky 777 Feb 22, 2022 05:09 AM
Ventura County Takes Steps Toward Limiting Oil Production Near National Forest

I'm as NIMBY as the next person, I don't want drilling in our channel or forests. But I'm also painfully aware that our global enemies are in NO way cutting back on energy production and transportation. China is building the world's biggest army and their land mass is filled with coal plants and oil drilling. And the Tibetan plateau controls the world's largest water supply. They laugh at our priorities and encourage our obsession with race.

CoastWatch Feb 22, 2022 09:45 AM
Ventura County Takes Steps Toward Limiting Oil Production Near National Forest

$100 per barrel of crude, going from 90% petroleum independence to the exact opposite and being dependent on OPEC and yes RUSSIA for oil and oil prices- All in the last 18 months- Go figure....
Think about that when your pumping gas @ $5.00 PLUS a gallon... Think about the ramifications for the "working folks" who don't drive Tesla's and Prius' (like nursing home workers, gardeners, truckers, UPS, Fed Ex, airlines, etc.) This myopic "Green theme" is FUBB... and we will all be paying.

ChillinGrillin Feb 22, 2022 08:07 PM
Ventura County Takes Steps Toward Limiting Oil Production Near National Forest

It's remarkable how little the "drill baby drill" folks know about the oil industry...go figure. Oil prices are often influenced by decisions made months or even years ago. Early on in the pandemic, oil companies drastically cut back production, anticipating a longterm low demand for oil. This is especially true with the US, where our oil requires labor-intensive fracking and offshore production and is the first to get long-lasting cuts when prices go south. Demand came back far faster than production could and now all the oil companies deciding to cut back exploration, drilling, and fracking for two years led to less supply. When more was needed and could have met demand and brought the price down. It's basic macroeconomics. I know the game show host didn't know much about it and didn't teach it at his rallies but come on, man.

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