by Kimberly Rivers
Five years after it was filed and following two appeals, on Tuesday, July 23, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors denied an application to expand the Cabrillo Oil Field on the Oxnard Plain, and has stopped the drilling of four new oil and gas wells in an area recognized b
y California as a disadvantaged community. This is the first time Ventura County has denied the expansion of an existing oil field.
Supervisor Steve Bennett, District 1, made the motion to deny the project, stating that he was unable to make the legally required “findings” in order to approve the project. One of the required findings is that the project would not jeopardize public health and safety. Supervisors John Zaragoza, District 5; Linda Parks, District 2; and Bob Huber, District 4, supported Bennett’s motion. The board will have to review language in a written resolution denying the project at a future board meeting set for Sept. 24. There will be no public comment on that date.
“It should remind us all that elections matter,” said Bennett after the hearing. He was referring to the first motion at the hearing made by Supervisor Kelly Long, District 3, to approve the project, which the board rejected 3 to 2, Long and Huber. Long was elected in 2016, Huber in 2018.
“Renaissance Petroleum has operated without any co
mpliance issues, no violations,” said Marc Traut, owner of Renaissance Petroleum. Representatives of the oil company declined to comment following the hearing.
The oil pad is near a state-designated disadvantaged community. The project was approved by the county in early 2017, and appealed by two local environmental organizations, Food and Water Watch and Citizens For Responsible Oil & Gas (CFROG — the organization has since changed its name to Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas), which was heard in Sept. 2017 by the Ventura County Planning Commission. The commission voted 3 to 1 to approve the project, with one abstention. The original appellants filed a second appeal, which led to Tuesday’s hearing.
One of the items cited as a key reason for the appeal was the need for a full study of cumulative health impacts on the nearby residential community.
Potential negative health impacts will be “felt first and worst by low-income communities of color,” said Dr. Robert Dodge with Physicians for Social Responsibility during public comments. Those communities will “bear disproportionate burdens associated with oil and gas . . . cumulative effects from pesticides, traffic and oil production.”
Sixty speaker cards were submitted for public comment with a strong majority asking the board to deny the project. Several employees of the oil company spoke about the impacts to their jobs if the project was not approved. The existing operations are permitted to continue until 2037.
One of the grounds of appeal submitted stated that the Planning Commission had failed to apply the correct legal standard in determining what level of environmental review is required for the project, and when the correct standard is applied, a full Environmental Impact Review would be required.
“Staff has always agreed with CFROG here,” said Je
ffrey Barnes, Ventura County Counsel. He explained that it is correct that the “fair argument standard” applies to this project, meaning that “when substantial . . . facts . . . support a fair argument that a proposed project may have a significant impact, that triggers the need for more California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. Even if not ironclad that there is going to be a significant impact, if someone brings a fair argument,” then more in-depth review is needed. “So it’s a lower standard of review” than what had been previously applied, Barnes explained, “but the planning department has determined the fair argument standard has not been met, but ultimately that is up to your board to determine.”
Disclosure: From May 2016 to Jan. 2019 Kimberly Rivers was executive director of CFROG.