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VC Planning Commission OKs Sespe Oil Field permit with landmark restrictions

web SS County of Ventura Basenberg A Lease

Photo courtesy county of Ventura

A view of the 120-acre Basenberg “A” Lease near Fillmore containing the oil production facilities. Of the four wells on the site, this one is active. Two others are idle and a fourth is abandoned.

 

Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News senior reporter

Ventura County took a step Feb. 17 toward limiting future oil development in the county.

Following an appeal by conservation groups, the Ventura County Planning Commission approved, with landmark restrictions, a conditional use permit requested by Carbon California.

The permit sought by the oil company would have allowed it to continue operating and maintaining three wells and redrilling others in the Sespe Oil Field near Fillmore for another 20 years.

Ventura County Planning Director Dave Ward approved the permit extension on Oct. 13, but the decision was appealed to the Planning Commission by local environmental organizations Los Padres ForestWatch, Climate First: Replacing Oil and Gas (CFROG), and Keep Sespe Wild.

Among the appellants’ requests were further environmental studies by county staff, modified permit conditions requiring adequate bonding and insurance, and a renewal of only 10 years.

Commisioners heard the appeal and voted unanimously to approve the permit request, but limited its renewal to 10 years instead of 20 and limited the number of times a well can be redrilled from unrestricted to only one.

The permit also requires Carbon California to revegetate and restore an oil production pad that is no longer being used, and to have a detailed reclamation and monitoring plan approved by the Planning director.

The decision marks the first time in 25 years that a CUP has been updated in the oil lease adjacent to Los Padres National Forest and a major tributary to Sespe Creek.

The move aligns with recommendations outlined in the new Ventura County General Plan calling for a 41% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030, according to ForestWatch Executive Director Jeff Kuyper. “Today’s action signals that the county of Ventura takes seriously its obligation to move a step closer toward a clean energy future,” he said Feb. 17.

The Planning Commission’s decision lays the groundwork for a cleaner future, said CFROG Executive Director Shannon Simpson. “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. It’s past time we take these important steps forward to secure a carbon-free energy future for our health and safety and for the preservation of the natural landscape that delights and sustains us,” she said.

“There’s so much to do, and we need to be actually shutting down oil wells rather than deciding on the details of how we might open them for a certain amount of time,” said Alasdair Coyne of Upper Ojai, conservation director for Keep Sespe Wild. “It shouldn’t even be on the table.”

Los Angeles in recent weeks has enacted bans on new oil drilling and will be phasing out existing wells in the next few years, Coyne told the Ojai Valley News. “Other places are doing it. We need to be doing it, too, in Ventura County,” he said.

The permit for the 135-acre Carbon Basenberg Oil Lease is one of 19 CUPs regulating more than 200 oil wells in the Sespe Oil Field, most operating under permits approved more than 50 years ago, according to ForestWatch.

In 2019, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted to make oil and gas production permits consistent with modern environmental and public health standards, but the oil industry sued and landed a measure on the June 22 ballot.

The vote to approve the CUP with modifications was 4-0, with Commissioner Jim King absent. The commission also decided to refund the appellants’ appeal charges.

The permit could be subject to updated surety bond requirements being developed by the county to ensure the cost of cleanup falls on the oil company and not the public, commissioners said.

As of press time, a request for comments from Carbon California had not received a response.

 

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