Oil Company Sued for Ventura Discharges

Four years after suing the California Resources Company over violations of the Clean Water Act in a coastal oil field north of the city of Ventura, last week the Environmental Defense Center again sued the oil company over a similar discharge violation from another large oil field in Ventura County, located on South Mountain, southeast of Santa Paula.

“In both these cases the company self-reported very high levels of pollutants, and in particular of Total Suspended Solids,” said Brian Segee, a senior attorney with the firm. “The cases are similar in some respects as both are very large oil fields administered by CRC. In both cases sediments can carry lots of other pollutants into local waterways. In both cases we alleged that the company had not done enough to control stormwater discharges.”

South Mountain is a 5,757-acre oil field to the south of Santa Paula, overlooking the town and the Santa Clara River. Though it has been producing oil since l916, it remains Ventura County’s second-most productive oil field, has nearly 300 working wells on its slopes, and produced 741,528 barrels of oil last year, according to reports maintained by the state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources.

The suit alleges that stormwater from three canyons on the mountain continue to be in violation of its permit with the local Regional Water Quality Control Board. In one example, Total Suspended Solids from a stream from Willard Canyon in December of 2012 reached 94,000 milligrams per liter, far in excess of the 100 mg/liter limit standard, according to the suit.

Part of the 2012 settlement of the earlier suit of similar CRC facilities in coastal watersheds north of Ventura required a study of the outfalls of CRC facilities in the coastal mountains. Led by a professor Arturo Keller of UCSB, the 2014 study found high concentrations of metals including aluminum, arsenic, barium, lead, and zinc, as well as fluids related to oil and gas, reaching the ocean. The EDC alleges that the company is failing to monitor for similar effluents passing into the Santa Clara River, as required in the permit.

“California Resources Corporation and our employees who live and work in Ventura County are committed to protecting the environment and our industry is regulated by no less than 17 agencies,” said Amy Fonzo, manager of external relations for the company. “We have not seen the suit in question, but will review the matter carefully.”

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