Last week, the Ventura County District Attorney sent police squads to seize records from two sites run by Anterra Energy Services, which operates the only commercial injection wells in Ventura County legally allowed to dispose of fluids generated by oil production. Senior Deputy DA Christopher Harman said the company is the target of a criminal investigation but would not discuss the reason why. “I can confirm the search warrant,” he said. “I can’t comment on what the investigation is about.”
Anterra attorney Jim Prosser said the company is cooperating with Ventura authorities and indicated the spotlight appeared to be on actions by a previous management team, but he would not discuss details. “The investigation by the district attorney appears to be focused on a period around July 2013 when we were under prior management,” he said. “We are cooperating as requested, and brought out our IT professionals to assist in providing information.”
The company has two injection wells on a site located on unincorporated land near Oxnard. Since 2010, according to records from the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, at its main well the company injected 2,195,364 barrels of oil-field-related fluids at a depth of approximately 5,000 feet. The company is allowed to take two tanker trucks an hour for injection, but in the past three years, it has far exceeded its permitted limits of about 60,000 barrels a month, said Brian Baca, who manages commercial permitting for the county.
In a notice of violation to the company dated June 25, 2014, Baca charged, “Anterra Energy has violated the truck delivery limits [in the permit] for every month from November 2013 through March of 2014.” A “notice of noncompliance” has been recorded on the property, prohibiting the sale or refinancing of the facility, and the county has threatened the company with fines of more than $1,000 a day.
Yet Baca said that to his knowledge, the criminal investigation of Anterra is not related to the dispute over the permit. “The district attorney has not requested any information, and I have not participated in any communications on this with his office,” he said. “Our issue is the permit violation, and I don’t know of any linkage between the criminal investigation and our permit.”
Carmen Ramirez, mayor pro tem of the nearby city of Oxnard, expressed her frustration: “I don’t understand why we have an injection well in the middle of the Oxnard Plain,” she said. “We rely on groundwater for our homes and for our agriculture, and this is where we grow food for so much of the country. To be pumping unknown and potentially caustic substances into the ground here — I don’t know why we are so reckless.” Anterra has appealed the notice of violation, and the matter will be heard before a county planning board on October 23.