Judge halts oil project expansion in Upper Ojai

Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News reporter
A Ventura County Superior Court judge has ruled the county violated state environmental laws in processing and approving an oil and gas project in the Upper Ojai Valley.
The Nov. 14 court order, by Judge Glen Reiser, directs the county to void its June 2016 approval of the project on the grounds it violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Along with nullifying approval, the judge directed the county to prepare a revised Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) “consistent with CEQA requirements.”
“This is a win for the people of Ventura County,” said Kimberly Rivers, executive director of Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG), which filed the legal action.
“The county must start putting public health and CEQA compliance ahead of profit for the fossil-fuel industry,” she added.
The project involved the drilling of three new oil wells located two miles northwest of Thomas Aquinas College.
CFROG’s petition to the court was filed in July and asked for an environmental study that considered air emissions, impacts of other nearby oil and gas projects, and public safety impacts from allowing oil tanker trucks on Koenigstein Road.
According to CFROG, the court order exposes how the Ventura County Planning Division’s procedures for calculating air emissions from oil and gas projects disregard thresholds in the county’s General Plan and the Ojai Valley Area Plan.
The court took issue with the county’s position that air emissions from oil wells don’t need to be counted toward the project’s air emissions because oil and gas wells are permitted by the Air Pollution Control District.
“The county’s claimed exemption of all oil and gas emissions from CEQA air quality impact analysis contravenes state law,” the court order stated.
“The proposed project,” the court order continued, “should have been deemed a significant impact in terms of air quality with concomitant CEQA-mandated discussion of mitigation and project alternatives.”
The project was first submitted by Mirada Petroleum, but was transferred to Carbon California in February.
An attorney representing Carbon California said his client had no comment on the matter.
Requests for comments from the county’s legal counsel went unanswered as of press time.
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