After Industry Disinformation Campaign, Ventura County Forced to Send Oil and Gas Regulations to Ballot in 2022

Ventura County risks losing environmental gains to oil and gas industry

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Climate and Energy

Ventura, CA — After seemingly running an extensive disinformation campaign and spending close to a million dollars on contracted canvassers, the oil and gas industry succeeded in collecting enough signatures to pause Ventura County’s newly-won oil and gas regulations, and send them to the ballot instead. The Board of Supervisors certified the signatures yesterday, signaling the start of a new battle for the county’s frontline communities and natural resources.

Some Board members echoed the public’s concern over deceitful tactics used during the signature gathering, but it will be up to the District Attorney to investigate reports of false information distributed by the hired signature gatherers of the oil and gas companies.

“Frontline communities are the people who will be hurt most by this pause in protections from oil and gas pollution,” said Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Tomás Rebecchi in response to the ruling. “The oil and gas industry’s gross misuse of the petition process affirms its willingness to manipulate and deceive to preserve its bottom line. How much longer can we leave our most vulnerable communities to pay for the profits of the oil and gas industry?”

California already has some of the weakest regulations on oil and gas drilling in the country – behind even Texas, another major producer – though Ventura County became one of the only counties in the state to require a 2,500 foot safety buffer zone between schools and oil wells when it updated its General Plan last year. The oil industry is now suing over those updates as well and hopes to overturn them in court.

In the 2022 statewide primary election, voters will decide whether to close a loophole that allows oil and gas companies using antiquated permits to avoid public oversight and modern environmental review to drill or frack new wells. Until then, the loophole will remain open in Ventura County. 

“What the County did last year was close a loophole that allowed some oil companies to skirt modern laws that protect public health, precious water supplies, our public lands, and the environment,” said ForestWatch’s director of advocacy Rebecca August. “The update simply made all new oil development and operations subject to the same rules that other businesses in Ventura County must follow. You can see why the oil industry is fighting it.” 

Most antiquated permits have no limit on the number of wells that can be drilled, no expiration date, and do not stipulate what extraction techniques can be used. To drill or frack new wells under these permits, the oil company pays a $330 application fee and obtains an over-the-counter Zoning Clearance without public notice or environmental review — much like a marriage licence.

“The threat posed by antiquated permits is already well-documented. Oil operators on these permits are responsible for numerous health and safety violations. It was an antiquated permit that led to one of Ventura County’s biggest toxic spills. Oxnard farmers discovered diluent – a toxic additive used to thin out oil sludge – floating in their broccoli crops. The farmers reported the spill. The oil company, protected by an antiquated permit, didn’t report anything until they got caught. And that spill? It still hasn’t been cleaned up.” said Liz Beall, Executive Director of Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas (CFROG) an environmental watchdog in Ventura County. “Voters are going to have to decide in June of 2022 – should we hold oil companies accountable for poisoning our air, land, and water? Or are we going to let their deep pockets make the rules, and tolerate more of the same?”

Contact: Jessica Gable – [email protected]