Guest column: Measures A and B prevent drilling next to homes

·3 min read

With oil prices high, there is more incentive to ramp up oil drilling on the central coast, including next to homes and schools. Ventura County residents need to vote yes on Measures A and B in June if they want that development to be subject to environmental review — like every other kind of development — and to meet current laws including setbacks from homes and schools.

In Ventura County, oil companies have been able to avoid complying with health and safety laws by operating under old permits issued last century, before the state invented environmental review. Those ancient permits cover 127,000 acres in Ventura County, and have no expiration dates or limits on the number of wells. That leaves large swaths of Ventura, Oxnard, Santa Paula, Camarillo, Fillmore, Simi Valley, as well as Ventura beaches and waterways vulnerable to new drilling, including mere feet from homes. Numerous studies show the dangerous health effects of living within two miles of an oil well, including asthma, cancer and low birthweight in newborn babies.

Recognizing the risk to residents, in November 2020 the Ventura County Board of Supervisors closed this loophole by requiring all new projects go through environmental review regardless of the age of the original permit. They also adopted a General Plan that calls for a 2,500-foot health and safety buffer between wells and homes and schools. The oil industry responded aggressively, suing the county and launching a petition drive to halt the change and put it on the ballot.

Aera Energy is mostly behind the No on Measures A and B campaign, having contributed at least $5 million so far. Environmental groups and public health advocates advocating “yes” on Measures A and B have formed a coalition called VCSafe.org but are being outspent by the oil industry.

Under the old legacy permits, Aera Energy could ramp up drilling near homes, through drinking water sources, and in environmentally sensitive areas, particularly when high oil prices make the kind of expensive and energy-intensive oil drilling they do in Ventura pay off. As a limited-liability company, Aera Energy can take environmental and economic risks that its parent companies, ExxonMobil and Shell, are not willing to take. In fact, Shell, which has been divesting carbon-intensive assets, wants out of the joint venture.

In addition to the ballot fight, Aera Energy and other oil companies have filed lawsuits against Ventura County seeking to invalidate the health and safety regulations in the General Plan — including the setbacks between residences, schools, and new oil drilling and a ban on flaring or venting gas. The stakes are high as these lawsuits challenge the basic right of local jurisdictions to protect their citizens. Ventura County was forced to allocate $2 million to defend itself. And on March 24, 2022, a judge granted Sierra Club, Climate First Replacing Oil and Gas (CFROG) and Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods (VISION)’s petition to intervene in Aera Energy’s lawsuit. The goal is not only to help defend Ventura County, but to defend people’s basic right to protect their health and safety through local governance.

At a time when Ventura County is threatened by climate-fueled wildfires and drought, and the latest United Nations IPCC report calls for “urgent action” on climate change, we should be building the clean energy economy of the future.

Instead, the oil industry is pursuing forever rights to drill near Ventura County homes and schools and is suing the county, seeking to overturn laws and legal precedent, and spending millions on a ballot fight to get their way.

First, we need to vote yes on Measures A and B to defend Ventura County’s ordinances and make sure that high oil prices don’t result in a destructive and unregulated oil frenzy in Ventura County. Then, we must pursue local renewable energy, building and transportation electrification to reduce our reliance on expensive oil and gas.

Katie Davis
Katie Davis

Katie Davis is Chair of the Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter.

This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Guest column: Measures A and B prevent drilling next to homes