Drilling along Los Padres

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A controversial decision was made in the town of Santa Paula last week. The Ventura County Board of Supervisors gave the green light to build 19 new oil wells and to continue operating 17 more.

In a 3-2 vote, the board voted to deny appeals by environmental groups and grant a 30-year permit modification for the project proposed by California Resources Corp. in an existing oil field along Santa Paula Creek.

Map of the proposed drilling area

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Map of the proposed drilling area. Credit: Ventura County/KCRW

The decision was based on research done for an Environmental Impact Review in the 1970s, when drilling began in Santa Paula Canyon.

“There’s certainly room for oil development in Ventura County,” said Jeff Kuyper, the executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, an environmental group that fights to preserve the national forest. “What we’re concerned about is that it’s done in appropriate areas.”

According to Kuyper, Santa Paula Canyon is not one of those areas. It’s a main access point for hikers to enter Los Padres National Forest, home to trails, waterfalls, swimming holes and back country campsites.

Not only are there impacts on a hiker’s wilderness experience, but Kuyper says there could be severe environmental impacts. The oil pipeline, which transports oil across Santa Paula Creek to another oil facility owned by the same company, doesn’t have an automatic shut off valve or a suspension bridge.

“When you have a pipeline like that in a very sensitive area, it places the creek at a very high risk of oil spill and contamination, much like we saw with the Refugio spill,” said Kuyper.

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The oil pipeline, which does not have an automatic shut off valve, runs across Santa Paula Creek. Photo: LPFW

The oil company did agree to install automatic shutoff devices, but did not give a timeline as to when.

You can learn about fracking alongside another backcountry spot, Ventura County’s Sespe Wilderness, here.