The Environmental Defense Center (EDC) announced today that it has reached an agreement with Vintage Production California LLC (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corporation) to significantly improve management of polluted runoff from the Rincon Grubb oil field, where it conducts oil exploration and production activities, including hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’). The 4,236-acre Rincon Grubb oil field is located in the steep coastal mountains of northern Ventura County, with polluted runoff from the field draining directly to heavily-utilized public beaches from Hobson County Park to Solimar (the consent decree can be found here).
“The measures required in this settlement agreement will improve water quality along the miles of Ventura County beaches that receive untreated runoff from the Rincon Grubb oil field, benefiting beach residents and visitors who swim, surf, and recreate in those waters,” stated Brian Segee, EDC’s lead attorney in the lawsuit and related negotiations. “Oil and gas fields comprise large swaths of our local area and the rise of fracking means that stormwater runoff from these fields may contain additional carcinogenic chemicals and other hazardous materials that were not previously present. This settlement is an important first step towards addressing this pollution.”
Under the settlement, Vintage has agreed to comprehensively address its stormwater management at the oil field by, among other actions, implementing effective pollution control measures to better control polluted runoff from the field’s extensive road network, drill sites, well pads, chemical containers, and production facilities; expanding the locations at which it conducts water quality sampling; and increasing its water quality sampling frequency. Oil field operations commonly discharge a wide range of conventional and hazardous pollutants, including total suspended solids, oil and grease, pH, benzene, lead, arsenic, chlorides, and ethanol xylenes. The adverse impacts of these pollutants on water quality can pose risks to fish and other aquatic organisms, wildlife, and human health.
The agreement also specifically addresses fracking, requiring Vintage to provide EDC with notice prior to fracking at the Rincon Grubb oil field, and to identify and monitor for chemicals and other hazardous components present in fracking fluid.
In addition to stormwater management measures, the settlement requires Vintage to dedicate $95,700 to fund a Supplemental Environmental Project known as the Northern Ventura County Coastal Watershed Fund. The Fund, to be administered by the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, will be directed towards projects relating to the reduction, prevention, research, or mitigation of pollutants to coastal watersheds between Rincon Creek and the Ventura River.
In early 2012, EDC filed its litigation under the citizen suit provision of the federal Clean Water Act. In this case, EDC alleged that Rincon Grubb was violating the terms of California’s Industrial Stormwater General Permit, which is part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System at the heart of the Clean Water Act. Under the General Permit, industrial facilities are prohibited from discharging pollutants, including total suspended solids, oil and grease, and toxic chemicals, in excess of water quality standards and without applying the best available and best conventional pollution treatment technologies to their sources. EDC filed its case after Vintage consistently reported pollution levels well above applicable guidelines and benchmarks, and failed to take corrective action. Michael Lozeau of Lozeau Drury LLP, located in Oakland, was co-counsel on this case with the Environmental Defense Center’s Brian Segee.
The Environmental Defense Center, a non-profit law firm, protects and enhances the local environment through education, advocacy, and legal action and works primarily within Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties. Since 1977, EDC has empowered community based organizations to advance environmental protection. Program areas include protecting coast and ocean resources, open spaces and wildlife, and human and environmental health. Learn more about EDC at http://www.EnvironmentalDefenseCenter.org.