March 21, 2013
By Kimberly Rivers
A group of about 15 Ojai Valley residents voiced their objections to 11 new oil wells being constructed in an area behind Thomas Aquinas College at the Ventura County Planning Division’s public hearing Thursday morning.
The purpose of the hearing was to address a proposed “minor modification” to a conditional use permit (C.U.P.) originally approved in 1985 for oil and gas operations. According to the application, Mirada Petroleum plans to drill nine new wells and rework two existing wells, all on existing well pads, and using existing infrastructure.
“That is good public process,” said Brian Baca, supervisor of commercial and industrial permits in the county Planning office, following the nearly three-hour hearing. “It is good to have the public interested in what we do.” Baca moderated the hearing, which was aimed at “gathering public comment” to be considered by Kimberly Prillhart, Ventura County’s planning director. She must make her decision within the next 40 days whether or not to approve the application.
“I’m happy that everyone showed up,” said Scott Price, president of Mirada. “It’s an important process. Important for the public to voice their opinion and concerns, and it’s important for the county to hear the voice of the community.”
Speaking about the project and the concerns raised, Price said, “Our project is very small. We are not expanding … we are adding to an area that we are already producing in. And we can’t add more emissions. We have to purchase emissions from what is available. The general public doesn’t know about that. We can’t just keep adding, you have to take away if you are going to add more.” He referred to the State Air Resources Board program called cap-and-trade, aimed at curbing green house gas emissions. The board distributes “allowances” to certain industries, based on a capped amount which declines over time. The allowances are “tradable permits” which are bought and sold within an industry.
In a letter obtained by OVN, residents joined together on the record, asking the planning director not to approve Mirada’s application because aspects of their operations have been in violation of the original C.U.P. granted in 1985, and because the County Planning office has failed to comply with county requirements regarding the review of the application.
These alleged violations include truck traffic on Koenigstein Road, failure to comply with managing dust on the roadways, tanks larger than what was permitted, property owners not properly notified, and because the application is “inconsistent with the Ventura County General Plan and the Ventura County Non-Coastal Zoning Ordinance (NCZO).” One of the reasons it is in violation of the NCZO, the letter claims, is because Mirada “has yet to provide the Planning Division information … for controlling oil spills.” The letter charges that the Planning office, by not requiring a spill prevention plan to be included in the application, has failed to “review and analyze the application” so as to confirm that Mirada has met “local, state and federal oil spill prevention regulations” as is required by the Ventura County General Plan. The 21-page document includes many other objections related to environmental impacts and various non-compliance issues related to the CUP, among others.
An issue raised repeatedly by residents at the hearing was the lack of consideration by county staff of the cumulative environmental effects of adding the seemingly-small number of new wells, and the changes to the area in the decades since the original C.U.P. was granted.
John Davis, a resident on Koenignstein road in Upper Ojai, said he was concerned with the “creeping incrementalism,” referring to the process of continually modifying an old C.U.P.
“I believe the additional wells will have a significant impact on the environment,” said Marianne Ratcliff, property owner and resident of Upper Ojai. She referred to the many changes in the area over the past 28 years including the growth of Thomas Aquinas College, “several expanded oil projects in Upper Ojai … 220 mineral acres just leased by (Occidental/Vintage) behind Thomas Aquinas. And 300 new wells pursued by Seneca in the Sespe field. Those are just the ones I know of.”
“My father sued the county in the late ’70s over an Environmental Impact Report for exploratory drilling in nearly the same area,” said Andrew Whitman, representing his 85-year-old father who lives on Koenigstein Road. “The Court of Appeal said (to the county), you have not adequately addressed the cumulative impacts in your EIR.” He explained the court found that by issuing that C.U.P. without considering cumulative impacts, the county was violating the law. “I don’t understand how 25 years later, we are leap frogging past the environmental impact process,” he said. “I don’t see any substantial evidence that there are no impacts. In fact, I think this hearing has demonstrated there are substantial impacts.” Whitman entered an objection to the negative declaration — the county’s finding that there are no cumulative impacts associated with the proposal — saying, “I don’t believe it is based on legitimate facts.”
March 21, 2013