Ventura County Farmers Urge Passage of Measures A and B to Protect Water Resources

Local organic farm owner speaks out after discovering abandoned oil well on property.

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Climate and EnergyClean Water

For Immediate Release

Fillmore, CA – Amid the sweeping backdrop of the Topatopa Mountains and a field of colorful organic vegetables, members of the Ventura County farming community joined advocates and water experts to urge the passage of Measures A and B. The twin ballot measures would close a loophole in Ventura County allowing oil and gas companies to drill without environmental review using antiquated permits. In most cases, these permits were granted between 1930 and 1970. Cynthia King’s farm, where the press conference took place, is surrounded by a CUP that was approved in 1928. 

“It’s terrifying,” King said. “As a member of the family that has owned and farmed this land for over a hundred years — and a family that is committed to maintaining the health and safety of the land, the water and the crops — it’s terrifying what could happen if our Fillmore aquifer gets contaminated by oil products.”

King and her husband supply avocados and citrus fruit to local markets and restaurants, also renting some of their land to The Abundant Table, a non-profit organic CSA and worker-owned collective. They recently learned that an abandoned oil well sits in the middle of their organic avocado field. 

“Over 654 active and idle oil wells in Ventura County are either located on top of groundwater basins or have been drilled through our groundwater basins,” said Food & Water Watch Central Coast Organizing Manager Tomás Rebecchi, who also leads the VC-SAFE coalition to pass Measures A and B. “If [oil operators] want to drill or frack an oil well next to your home or school, they would have to do as little environmental review as building a gazebo or a deck in your own backyard. And in Ventura County, more than 60 percent of oil wells located next to homes are next to Latino and Latinx communities. This creates a disproportionate burden of pollution shouldered by communities of color. Measures A and B are common sense protections that make oil operators in Ventura County play by the same rules as the rest of California.”

Numerous health studies have linked living within a close proximity to oil wells with asthma, cancer and preterm births among other health issues. 

“The health of our people depends on our water supply,” said Carmen Ramirez, Chair of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. “This precious source of life is threatened everywhere in the Southwest. Certainly in Ventura County we don’t have enough of it. When you care about people and health, that should win over other people’s profit motives. We have to protect our water. We have to protect our climate. We have to protect our beautiful agriculture.

“I’ll be out there knocking on doors, getting people to vote “yes” on Measures A and B,” Supervisor Ramirez added. Other elected officials who have endorsed Measures A and B include Rep. Julia Brownley, Senator Henry Stern, and Ventura Mayor Sofia Rubalcava.

Pouring oil into a glass of water, geologist and member of Ventura’s Water Commission Nova Clite demonstrated how difficult it is to truly separate the two substances. “Most groundwater contamination is in the dissolved phase. You don’t taste it. You don’t even see it. You can be exposed to toxic chemicals and not even know it. So the best course is prevention.” 

The oil wells using these antiquated permits have no expiration date and no requirement for environmental review. If the ballot measures do not pass and the loopholes for the oil industry remain open, future oil drilling with these permits would not be subject to any other legislation limiting or regulating drilling (such as a ban on fracking or the institution of 3,200 foot buffer zones between community sites like schools and well operations).

“These loopholes risk the very fabric of the community we’ve built together and we can’t let that happen,” said Abundant Table board member Tom Nafziger

Guadalupe Rojas is the farm manager for The Abundant Table. Through a translator, he said, “We’re very close to the Santa Clara River here and it’s very important to keep our subterranean storage very clean for the water. A very tiny amount of oil can contaminate thousands of gallons of water. Another thing that’s very important to keep our soils free of petroleum and other contaminants is to keep oil wells far away from our farms.”

 “We want to make sure that we’re bringing the healthiest, most intact, unpolluted product to people to eat,” continued Cynthia King. “We don’t use herbicides or pesticides. So we’ll be voting yes on Measures A and B. The oil companies may have thousands of dollars, but we have thousands of people.”

See the full press conference here.

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The VC-SAFE (Ventura County Save Agriculture and Drinking Water for Everyone) coalitionis composed of working families, farmers, and environmental justice groups banding together to protect our drinking water and demand safeguards for all future oil drilling.

Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]