Owner seeks 20-year extension to well permit

032916 bentleywells

A diagram show the location of the wells within the permit area. 

Kimberly Rivers, Ojai Valley News correspondent

The Ventura County Planning Department is processing an application to add 20 years to a conditional use permit (C.U.P.) allowing the ongoing operation of oil and gas wells behind Soule Park. The application includes a request to remove four conditions to the permit, including allowing the operation of a normally prohibited gas flare.

The Bentley Family Partnership Ltd. operates the field.

Most wells covered by the C.U.P (LU11-0006) are idle wells. The Public Resources Code defines an idle well as one that has not produced oil and/or gas or has not been used for fluid injection for six consecutive months during the last five years.

According to the project description, the applicant is requesting a 20-year continuation of the existing C.U.P. for the ongoing operation of seven oil and gas wells, and an existing tank farm. The permit would allow the separation of produced water and natural gas from crude oil, transportation from the site and other required maintenance and upkeep of all equipment mandated by the DOGGR.

The application does not include a request to allow water injection or hydraulic fracturing in any of the wells.

Records maintained by the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) — the state oil and gas regulatory agency — show that testing of seven Bentley wells has taken place periodically from 2001 to 2015.

Bentley well No. 2 was tested July 1 and received a note of “A” under “test status code.” No other boxes on that form were completed except for an “OK” notation under “test result.” Items not filled out include problem with wellhead, problem with valves and problem with pumps. In previous year’s testings, those boxes were marked with an “N.”

Bailey 10 was last tested in August 2011. The only issue noted was a “Y” in the box indicating an “uncovered sump.” That problem was noted at each inspection in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2015.

Online well records from 1983 indicate five wells in the field had violations and prior operators provided “very little standard maintenance.” Noted violations included “tubing full of fluid, small spray of oil when valve is open, PVC line connected to casing line … disconnected facilities and makeshift arrangements, buried lines with unknown designations … it is unknown whether wells have tubing packers, pumps, etc.” and “although wells have produced at low rates, the shallow zone is under high pressure. A failure of the wells or production system could result in expelling an unknown amount of oil, gas and water to the surface environment.”

The project is within the boundaries of the Ojai Valley Area Plan (OVAP). Ventura County Assistant Planner Hai Nguyen confirmed the county sent the project to the city of Ojai for review and comment and did not receive a response. He provided a letter dated Dec. 4, 2015 to Ojai Community Development’s Kathleen Wold describing the project and asking for comments or questions to be provided prior to Dec. 24, 2015.

Ojai Interim City Manager Steve McClary said he could not locate any record of the project being received by the city. “We have not been able to find the document. I can’t confirm if we received it or not, but I have no reason to dispute that the county did send it.”

McClary, who has held the job of interim city manager for less than a month, said, he is not aware of previous direction that may have been given for review of county projects in the Ojai Valley Area Plan.

“It is an area I will be looking into and discussing with Council to see if it’s a matter (they wish) to give some direction on.”

In a 2008 letter to the Ventura County Resource Management Agency Bentley Family Partnership representative Randall K. Horne wrote, “Currently, all wells are in shut-in status and no crude oil is being produced.”

The Ventura County Non-Coastal Zoning Ordinance (NCZO) requires wells be abandoned when idle for 30 days. Section 8107-5.6.11 states, “if the well has been suspended, idled or shut in for 30 days as determined by the Division of Oil and Gas, all such equipment and materials shall be removed within 90 days.”

Ojai-based Citizens For Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG) provided comments on the proposed C.U.P. modifications saying, “An increasing general concern of CFROG’s is that as older wells in depleting oil fields trickle down to little or no oil, they are idled. DOGGR writes letters asking for five-year testing as required by regulation, but the letters are usually ignored.”

CFROG added that wells become orphaned when small operators go bankrupt leaving “the mess to the state. Evidence of this practice is readily found in C.U.P 325 and C.U.P 15.” The group said fees and bonds associated with idle wells are abysmally small compared to the cost of properly abandoning an oil well. “If the county is going to issue a new 20-year permit, there should be some attempt to require (proper) abandoning of idled wells as part of the permit.”

The application requests the removal of four current permit conditions including permission for a gas flare and venting system instead of a pipeline.

An oil tank exploded at the Bentley field near Creek Road June 10, 2008. Two oil storage tanks were destroyed in the blaze that took 75 firefighters to combat. According to a report from the Ventura County Fire Department, the bulk of the oil tank (was) more than 200 feet from its base at the scene of the fire.

The Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Committee will review this project April 18 at 7 p.m. at the Oak View Community Center.

© Ojai Valley News, 2016

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