For Immediate Release
Ventura, CA – More than a hundred community members, climate activists and elected officials filled Kellogg Park to rally in support of the VC-SAFE Yes on Measures A and B campaign. The twin June 7 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.
More than 60 percent of oil wells in Ventura County are next to Latinx homes. In West Ventura, the percentage is even higher. Oil and gas industry giants like Aera Energy spent millions of dollars to fight the loophole closures initially passed by the Board of Supervisors two years ago. The industry has collectively poured more than $8 million into the campaign against Measures A and B.
“It’s corporate greed in its worst form,” said Tomás Rebecchi, a West Ventura resident and Central Coast Organizing Manager for Food & Water Watch. “They’re using record prices from price gouging us at the pump and they’re using that money to flood our county with $8 million of lies. We have some of the highest levels of pollution here in the Westside out of all of California. Study after study has shown living next to oil wells is bad for cancer, asthma, preterm birth, and we have hundreds of oil wells right next to our homes and schools here on the Westside.”
Ventura County Supervisor Carmen Ramirez said, “We are fighting not just for ourselves but for our children and our grandchildren, all the future generations. Some day in the future, our descendants are going to say ‘what did our ancestors do? Did they do something to help us live a better life or did they condemn us to the hell on earth that we’re starting to see in India and other places where the temperatures are so hot that people cannot survive?’”
At a “toxics tour” after the rally, members of the media traveled to three locations that viscerally illustrate West Ventura’s long history as a sacrifice zone for fossil fuel interests: a gas compressor station across the street from an elementary school; an oil derrick on a community member’s property; and a decades-old petrochemical site with a history of explosions.
Across the street from the E.P. Foster Elementary School, community activist and local resident Liz Campos pulled her wheelchair up to the SoCalGas compressor site. Campos has Stage 4 lung cancer, which her doctors attribute to her living within a quarter of a mile from the SoCalGas compressor station. She has no prior history of lung cancer in her family.
“I won’t be defeated,” said Campos, chair of the Westside Neighborhood Council and member of the Westside Clean Air Coalition. “I will go to my death fighting for people who need to be able to breathe.”
Jan Dietrick owns a business with her husband, Ron, on a property that has been in her family for generations. Amid the family’s lush greenery and homegrown plants, an oil derrick bobs up and down. The permit originated in the 1940s, long before environmental review was required. Just outside her house, a sign lists the dangerous health impacts of proximity to the oil derrick — including cancer. The smell of oil is thick in the air.
“We don’t know what might be happening in the groundwater right now,” said Dietrick. “And groundwater is precious to this community. I would rather be growing my business than having to be out explaining to everybody in my neighborhood what’s the truth.”
Along Crooked Palm Road in West Ventura the remains of the USA PetroChem oil refinery still scar the landscape. The site was responsible for 23 fires and several explosions, releasing toxic emissions which caused adverse health impacts in the community. In 1978, a 19 year old man was fatally burned at one of the fires.
“The toxic legacy in this community follows a dangerous pattern,” said John Brooks, an environmental activist who lives in Ojai. “There are spills, accidents, environmental damage and failure to obey regulations. In so many cases the taxpayers are charged for the cleanup. It’s such a pattern of bringing environmental damage and then saying goodbye, we’re leaving. It happens all the time.”
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).
Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]