|(Jan. 17, 2018) -- The City Council voted 7-2 (Gonzalez, Pearce dissenting) on Jan. 16 on motions to approve a City Hall consultant prepared Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and let Beach Oil Minerals Partners (BOMP), an entity that includes Synergy Oil which operates the large/former Bixby oil field north of 2nd St. between PCH and Studebaker Rd., remove its surface oil rigs and piping from the site and continue oil drilling using new slant-drilled wells (120 at full build out) from two nearby off-sites (Pumpkin Patch on PCH and NE corner of Studebaker/2nd St.) flanking the east and west sides of the Newport-Inglewood fault that bisects the oil field/wetlands.
BOMP has proposed to fund the wetlands restoration without tapping taxpayer funds by establishing a "mitigation bank," a financing technique that generates a revenue stream by selling "credits" to operators of polluting projects elsewhere offset their projects' impacts by paying to fund environmentally beneficial projects, in this case, the wetlands restoration.
Under the transaction, the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority (LCWA), a government body, would swap a 5 acre parcel at the NE corner of Studebaker/2nd St. (that BOMP will use for slant oil drilling) in exchange for the City acquiring 154 acres of the wetlands north of 2nd St. between Studebaker Rd. and PCH for ultimate conveyance to LCWA. The project would reduce operating oil wells on the site by 50% within 20 years of the "New Occupancy Date" and by 100% within 40 years from the New Occupancy.
A series of motions to approve were made by 3rd dist. Councilwoman Suzie Price, seconded by 7th dist. Councilman Roberto Uranga, both of whom are voting members of of LCWA's governing board and Councilman Uranga is also a voting member of the Coastal Commission that will separately review the proposed transaction for consistency with the CA Coastal Act.
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Opponents supported wetlands restoration but variously said the proposal amounted to an oil-drilling plan that perpetuates reliance on fossil fuels and leaves the City with a too-lengthy timeline (up to 44 years) for full restoration and some risk for the City that the restoration might not be fully accomplished as promised. Supporters called the BOMP proposal game-changer, not made by prior oil field operators and previously inconceivable, a once in a lifetime opportunity that shouldn't be missed, and said rejecting the proposal would effectively let current oil drilling (with older, riskier equipment) continue with no wetlands restoration.
The action capped a roughly four and a half hour hearing in which Mayor Garcia, with City Attorney approval, let city staff open, followed by presentation by Gabrielino native Americans (invited by city staff) to support, followed by former LB Mayor Bob Foster speaking in support (citing his pre-Mayoral role as SCE president when the utility gave up a 5 acre parcel at the NE quadrant of Studebaker/2nd St, as a result of litigation with the now-disbanded environmental group CA Earth Corps.) [Some opponents have questioned LCWA can swap the 5 acre parcel for oil drilling purposes based terms of the property's conveyance in the Earth Corps environmental litigation.]
Following roughly an hour of supportive presentations, Mayor Garcia said appellants Ann Cantrell (CARP) and Anna Christensen/Dr. Charles Moore (representing Protect the Long Beach/Los Cerritos Wetlands) would be allowed 15 minutes each for their presentations. Ms. Cantrell requested two extra minutes, which Mayor Garcia and Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais declined to grant. (Mayor Garcia ultimately allowed Ms. Cantrell roughly a minute extra to wrap up her testimony.) A BOMP representative was then allowed to rebut the appellants for several minutes, followed by public speakers (roughly 2/3 opposed) for roughly two hours. Speakers in support included the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust (which announced its support a day before the hearing.) Others in support included the LB Area Chamber of Commerce.
Opponents raised issues focusing on reliance on fossil fuels, the risks of oil spills and related seismic issues (as the Newport-Inglewood earthquake fault bisects the wetlands site.) Supporters noted that current oil drilling on the site crosses the fault line at 12 points using old equipment with fewer safety and code standards, while allowing the new slant drilling wells involve crossing the fault at one location with greater safety and code standards. Project supporters also said the type of oil extracted has lower pollutant content than other types of CA oil.
Other opponents included representatives of local Tongva native Americans, who said city outreach was inadequate, while representatives of Gabrielino native Americans said the city's outreach had reached them and they had responded positively. Some Gabrielino reps heatedly disputed Tongva reps' asserted historical links to the wetlands area, and vice versa.
BOMP said it had engaged in an unprecedented level of public outreach and sought to find common ground with wetlands and environmental groups. It noted that over the weekend of October 20-22, it had 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 provided etended VIDEO and photo coverage below of what we saw and heard.
On Monday Jan. 15, the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, a non-profit entity that has worked for years to protect and restore the wetlands, hadn't taken a public position in the project until the day before the hearing, when it issued the statement below. In a mass emailing, LCWLT Executive Director Elizabeth Lambe wrote:
We admit it. It took us awhile. But after a great deal of research, discussion and with some additional protections put into place, the Board of Directors of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust has voted to support the mitigation bank and land swap proposed by Beach Oil Mineral Partners (BOM). We know the project has been the subject of great controversy and of strong opinion both for and against. We were, frankly, torn, in that we supported the idea of restoring Los Cerritos Wetlands but concerned it be done right, not take too long, and have the right balance of wetlands access and protection.
In Council colloquy, Councilwoman Price asked whether the City had a legal right to prevent Synergy from continuing its current oil drilling on the wetlands site. City staff replied (consistent with Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais' previously stated opinion) that the City couldn't stop current drilling...meaning if the Council rejected the proposed transaction, current oil drilling, with its current risks, could continue without the offered wetlands restoration.
Councilwoman Price asked staff questions framed to address (and counter) issues raised by appellants/opponents. Price asked about the risk of induced seismicity (concern over possibly triggering a quake on the Newport/Inglewood fault.) A city staffer said the EIR had addressed the issue (text below) and said earthquakes in Oklahoma attributed to water injection didn't result from injecting water to fill voids from extracted oil, while in contrast waste water that will injected into wetlands is from extracting oil and re-filling voids left by the extraction, restoring the status quo. Price also noted that current drilling on the site uses old equipment (and crosses the fault line at twelve locations) without up to date oil spill protections and seismic code requirements while allowing new slant drilling would cross the fault at only one location with increased oil spill protections and meet more stringent seismic code requirements.
Responding to several speakers (including Ms. Cantrell) who cited a lengthy letter in the EIR proceeding by a Coastal Commission staffer, city Advance Planning Officer Christopher Koontz saying the issues raised in the letter weren't formal opposition, but left issues that the City would address as the project progressed to its next regulatory steps (including at the Coastal Commission [with Councilman Uranga as a voting member.]
In response to testimony by Melinda Cotton and Corliss Lee (who recommended the the City obtain additional protections if, for some reason(s), the oil firm couldn't complete its up to 40 years of wetlands restorations), Councilmembers Price and Uranga said the transaction is structured so the City will retain the northerly currently pristine Steamshovel Slough wetlands area regardless of whether the promised level of restorations are completed.
Price, Uranga and several Councilmembers said their support was influenced by the support of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust (statement issued a day before the hearing, text below.)
Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez (recently effectively re-elected without ballot opposition) announced her dissent on grounds too many questions remained unanswered. Councilwoan Jeannine Pearce (not part of the scheduled 2018 election cycle but facing a formal recall) indicated she has long favored eliminating dependence on oil.
In its responses to EIR comments, the draft EIR's "Statement of Overriding Considerations" (listing grounds to approve the EIR despite some air quality impacts during construction) also states: "The City will receive an increase in tax dollars from the new oil production activities. Long Beach imposes a tax on oil production which is currently estimated at 40 cents/barrel of oil produced. As a result of this project, the incremental increase in annual tax proceeds from new oil production could, at maximum operating capacity, provide approximately $4 million in tax revenues to the City."
The oil operator has indicated it doesn't plan to conduct "fracking" (hydraulic fracturing of rocks to free up oil) but does plan to re-inject water (removed as a byproduct of the oil drilling process) to fill voids created by the oil removal and prevent ground subsidence. That raised concerns by some regarding possible induced seismicity (concerns that the process might trigger an earthquake on the Newport-Inglewood fault that bisects the wetlands site.) 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]
Immediately prior to a series of votes approving the transaction (motions by Price, seconded by Uranga), Mayor Garcia voiced support for the project. The series of motions (four voted actions) carried 7-2 (Gonzalez, Pearce dissenting). In making her motion for a fifth item approving the site plan review, Councilwoman Price added provisions for planting native trees along parts of Studebaker Rd. and 2nd St. with some sidewalk added along part of 2nd St. east of Studebaker Rd. It carried 9-0.
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