Includes On-Demand PODCAST Extended Audio Coverage
Planning Comm'n Hears Sharply Differing Testimony -- With Some Prominent Wetlands/Enviro Groups Non-Committal -- Votes
|(Dec. 3, 2017, 11:55 a.m.) -- As carried LIVE on LBREPORT.com on November 30, LB's Planning Commission heard sharply differing public testimony -- with prominent wetlands and wildlife groups publicly non-committal at this point -- and voted
The proposal would allow the oil company to continue its oil drilling using underground slant-drilled wells (over 100 at full buildout) from two nearby off-site locations flanking the east and west sides of the Newport-Inglewood fault that bisects the oil field/wetlands. The wetlands restoration would be funded without tapping taxpayer dollars by creating a mitigation bank, a financing technique that creates a revenue stream funded by operators of polluting projects elsewhere to offset their impacts by paying to fund environmentally beneficial projects at other locations.
LBREPORT.com supplements our detailed text coverage below with on-demand PODCAST extended audio coverage accessible below.
[Scroll down for further.]
The draft EIR for what is officially called the "Los Cerritos Wetlands Oil Consolidation and Restoration Project" can be found at this link. The full agendized written materials (multiple documents) are at this link.
A number of speakers raised the risk of pipeline breaks and possible oil spills and noted that the site location is (literally) atop the Newport-Inglewood fault. Project supporters note that the site has been an oil field for decades and if the project isn't approved, the current risk of pipeline breaks and oil spills will remain; they say the restoration project will use newer equipment and pipelines applying more stringent codes than the current wells and pipes. A number of public speakers in opposition raised seismic issues (including the possibility of inducing seismic activity by the oil operations); city staff invited its hired consultant to respond but indicated she was a generalist and not a seismologist. (The issue is discussed in the City's written EIR materials, cited in detail below.)
During a colloquy with a Commission member, Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais confirmed that if the proposed project isn't approved, Synergy Oil remains free to continue its present surface oil drilling operations [i.e. without wetlands restoration.]
Speakers in support included Mark Stanley, Executive Officer of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority (a government body charged with providing "a comprehensive program of acquisition, protection, conservation, restoration, maintenance and operation and environmental enhancement of the Los Cerritos Wetlands" whose four member governing board includes LB Councilmembers Suzie Price and Roberto Uranga.) He was joined by Eric Zahn, project manager for LCWA, who said the prospect of restoring 154 acres of wetlands was previously nearly unimaginable, and can only be accomplished now by consolidating oil drilling off-site (as BOMP proposes to do.). Also testifying in support were area residents Lucy Johnson and Bill Thomas, along with Jeremy Harris, Exec. Dir. of the LB Area Chamber of Commerce.
A number of prominent LB area environmentalists and veteran civic activists raised issues in opposition. Ann Cantrell (a Director of Citizens About Responsible Planning/CARP) noted that in written comments, Coastal Commission staff said the Pumpkin Patch area is wetlands and should be treated as such. Oceanographer and clean-ocean advocate Captain Charles Moore, PhD (LB-based Algalita Marine Research and Education) criticized continued reliance on fossil fuels. Corliss Lee (speaking as a Director of CARP) urged accelerating the proposed 40 year restoration timeline and said the project is ultimately about oil and money.
Belmont Shore taxpayer Melinda Cotton noted that Coastal Comm'n staff spotted the fact that the proposal would allow at least two 160 foot drilling rigs (one at the Pumpkin Patch, the other and 2nd St./Studebaker NE corner) for up to 11-14 years, which the draft EIR called a temporary use while Coastal Commission staff recommended it be treated as a permanent aesthetic impact. Ms. Cotton said the prospect of restoring the wetlands was very exiting, but said the City should take steps to protect itself if the price of oil declines over the next 40+ years and might prevent the new entity from complete its restoration work as promised, leaving the City with the problem.
Marshall Blesofsky, speaking on behalf of the LB Peace Action Network, said that although the City of Long Beach is politically liberal, it has historically followed a policy on oil similar to President Trump ("drill baby drill") and urged a change in that position.
His son, Warren Blesofsky, Exec. Dir. of Citizens for Fair Development, recommended that the Council make it a condition that the oil operator disclose all the chemicals it plans to inject back into the groundwater. Mr. Blesofsky also raised a procedural issue with impacts beyond the current hearing. He noted that at the beginning of the hearing, a few of the Planning Commissioners disclosed -- on the City Attorney's recommendation -- that they had talked to the developer or visited the project site. To this, Mr. Blesofsky said: "It's a real problem here. I've got city staff telling Commissioners that they shouldn't talk to members of the public about issues that are coming up here and yet many of you have conversations in private with the developers. When environmentalists call you, or call the City Council, or call [Councilman] Uranga's office, no one calls 'em back. So this open-door policy that the Councilperson [who's a Coastal Commission member] and this Board has, it needs to be open-door on both sides. If you're going to talk in private with the developers, talk in private with the environmentalists in the community."
The largest single opposition group consisted of speakers identifying themselves as Native Americans / indigenous peoples or their supporters, who said the site had previously been inhabited by LB's historic Tongva Tribe. Some said it had been a tribal burial ground; others mentioned the "Standing Rock" (South Dakota) oil pipeline (that ignited months of demonstrations/occupations on that site in 2016 (which ended only after President Trump took office and authorized the Obama-administration delayed project to proceed.) One noted that the City Council and Mayor Garcia recently sought credit for recognizing "Indigenous Peoples Day" (instead of Columbus Day.)
LB's major wetlands and wildlife groups remained publicly non-committal for now, but publicly commended BOMP for what they said was its responsiveness to their concerns, for meeting and discussing issues with them and for ongoing discussions.
The Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust (a
Mary Parsell of El Dorado Audubon said the group is excited at the prospect of restoring a fully functioning wetlands, said it has concerns about some aspects of the project, but said BOMP had been responsive to its concerns. Ms. Parsell said the group has confidence the project will be a great success "once it clears all the requisite regulatory hurdles" (and reiterated and stressed the phrase), including regulatory approvals that will be required from the Coastal Commission, CA Fish and Wildlife and other regulatory agencies.
Following public testimony, Planning Commissioner Mark Christoffels (former LB City Engineer, holds Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from UCI) commented that [paraphrase] he has greater confidence in new pipelines built to new code requirements and standards than the old pipes currently on the site [drawing audible audience skepticism.]
The project applicant has stressed that it doesn't plan to conduct "fracking" (hydraulic fracturing of underground rocks to free up oil) on the site, but has acknowledged that it plans to separate water extracted as part of the oil drilling process, treat it and re-inject it back into the ground to prevent ground subsidence. The oil field sits (literally) atop the Newport-Inglewood fault which bisects the site and the oil operator proposes to use slant-drilling sites from two sites (east and west of the fault line) to avoid drilling directly across the fault. (One slant drill site would be from the NE corner of Studebaker/2nd St. site is east of the fault line; the other from the Pumpkin Patch site southward along PCH is on the west side of the fault line.)
Asked by the Commission to respond to seismic issues raised by the public, Advance Planning Officer Christopher Koontz invited a city hired consultant to the podium...who indicated she was only a generalist and her firm had basically only peer-reviewed submitted materials for compliance with current regulatory standards.
The draft EIR's written materials (which the Planning Commission recommended that the Council certify) says the following about the risk of induced seismicity.
[Heading] Induced Fault Rupture, Seismic Event, and/or Seismic-Related Ground Failure [end heading]
Citizens for Fair Development Exec. Dir. Warren Blesofsky asked that the City require the operator to publicly disclose what chemicals, if any, it will be re-injecting into the ground. In follow-up colloquy with the Commission, Assistant City Attorney Mais said that issue is beyond the ability of the City to require (as it's preempted by state law.)
In response to testimony saying the site is a Tongva burial site, City Hall's Advance Planning Officer Chris Koontz said the City's studies indicated that [paraphrase] as a frequently flooded wetlands area, it's unlikely that the site was used for burial purposes
LB's Planning Commission (non-elected) ultimately voted 7-0 (motion by Perez, second by Lewis ) to recommend that LB's City Council (elected) certify an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), zoning code amendment, Local Coastal Program amendment and other items that would lead to a firm (Beach Oil Minerals Partners or "BOMP") removing the current visible oil equipment over a period of years from the Synergy (former Bixby) Oil Field (north of 2nd St. between Studebaker Rd. and PCH).
The vote was met with audible audience displeasure, including extended shouts from opponents (audible in our PODCAST on-demand audio below.)
On the weekend of October 20-22, BOMP offered the public walking tours of the usually-inaccessible oil field that it offers to restore to 154 acres of natural wetlands. LBREPORT.com went on the walking tour on Sunday morning Oct. 22 and provides extended VIDEO and photo coverage below of what we saw and heard.
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