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Climate Change

Ventura Ballot Measure Would Crack Down on ‘Antiquated’ Oil Drilling Permits

Photo by Bryant Baker

When Ventura County updated its General Plan last year, it included new standards for where new oil rigs can be built: with a common sense, 2,500-foot safety buffer zone between schools and oil wells. Predictably, the oil and gas industry [the industry] isn't taking this change lying down. They are challenging it in court while simultaneously utilizing a loophole that allows them to continue to drill under permits issued in the 1930s.

As of July 2021, 75 percent of the 4,037 active and idle wells in Ventura County were using these antiquated permits, which never expire.

When the County tried to close the loophole legislatively, the industry and its front group Ventura Citizens for Energy Independence paid a small army of signature gatherers to force the county to overturn its new rules, in a campaign that was described by activists and even the Supervisors as an "extensive disinformation campaign."

Last week, a coalition of indigenous peoples, environmentalists, parents, and others launched a campaign in favor of two ballot measures that would close that loophole.

Screen Shot 2022-02-22 at 12.11.46 PM

At the press event announcing the citizen's campaign for Measures A and B, people testified about the industry's polluting of the land for generations.

Environmental group Food & Water Watch has been organizing Ventura County residents in favor of greater regulation of the industry. Its Central Coast organizer Tomás Rebecchi has seen the disproportionate impact of unregulated industry exploitation of oil and gas resources on Ventura's communities of color.

“In Ventura County, there are more than 1,000 wells that are within a half mile of residents’ homes,” said Rebecchi. “And sixty percent of those oil wells are in Latino communities like ours. This creates a disproportionate burden of pollution shouldered by low income communities and communities of color." According to census data, just over 43 percent of Ventura County is counted as Latino or Hispanic.

"With these old permits, an oil company could drill or frack a well next to our homes with as little environmental review as building a gazebo or a shed,” he continues.

In addition, Chumash elder Julie Tumamait-Stenslie, who has worked in cultural resource management for forty years, has seen sacred sites subsumed by oil development. Under the California Environmental Quality Act, developers are supposed to avoid sacred sites.

“But you can’t avoid [sacred sites] if you don’t know where they are,” Tumamait-Stenslie said. “[have] Chumash people a lot of knowledge that just has gone away from us, lost through that mission period. And so there are sacred mountains that have gone unrecognized… sacred sites, burials that have probably all been impacted and will be impacted because there is no oversight.”

Advocates for Measures A and B are cautious about the measures' chances for success.

“The idea was to wrest power from the hands of the special interest groups that were dominating state politics in places like Sacramento,” said University of California San Diego professor and Political Science Department Chair Thad Kousser, discussing the political battles over oil and gas extraction in Ventura County.

“Unfortunately, 100 years later we’ve all seen that direct democracy, like our representative government, is also vulnerable.  We have unequal access to the ballot right now. It’s no longer the people’s process.”

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