Missed comment letters lead to 2nd vote on Ventura County's oil bond changes

·2 min read
Aera Energy operates on a historic oilfield north of Ventura. Under a proposal being reweighed Thursday, Aera and other oil companies face steep bond increases for their operations in Ventura County.
Aera Energy operates on a historic oilfield north of Ventura. Under a proposal being reweighed Thursday, Aera and other oil companies face steep bond increases for their operations in Ventura County.

Local planning commissioners will reconsider steep increases in bonds and insurance for oil and gas operations Thursday because they did not see a few dozen comment letters before the first vote.

The 36 letters were submitted by the deadline of 3:30 p.m. on the day before a public hearing on July 28, but planning staff mistakenly omitted them from the cache of 309 that were submitted on time.

About 80% of the missing letters came from local residents who wanted stronger controls on oil and gas producers than the county Planning Commission passed. The other 20% came from oil and gas companies, royalty owners and an insurer opposing the measures.

More: Steep increases for oil and gas bonds move step closer in Ventura County

The new hearing before the commission comes a little over two weeks after the citizens panel voted 3-2 to advance the beefed-up regulations for bonds and insurance to Ventura County supervisors.

Since the early 1980s, oil companies have been able to post a single $10,000 bond for all their operations in the county.

The revisions to the county's land-use law are intended to better protect taxpayers and the environment when something goes wrong or if an operator abandons wells without properly plugging them. But opponents say the state is already addressing problems with idled wells and the new measures passed by the commission are unnecessary.

Planning Director Dave Ward said he decided the matter should be reheard after verifying the 36 letters had not been included in the package of materials that went to the commission. They represent 12% of the letters that were submitted on time, but Ward said it was only fair to hold another hearing.

"It's not a full hearing if there were letters that didn't make it to the commission," he said.

He was alerted by Marc Traut, president of Renaissance Petroleum in Bakersfield, one of the oil and gas officials who wrote letters that didn't make it to the commission on time.

Ward said no one threatened litigation if the matter was not reheard.

Another 32 comment letters received after the 3:30 p.m. deadline were also added to the package the commissioners receive. Those letters would not ordinarily be presented to the Planning Commission and instead would only be presented to the Board of Supervisors at the time the board considers the project. But they will go to the commission because the additional hearing was set Thursday.

The commission meets at 8:30 a.m. in the board room of the County Government Center in Ventura. To see the meeting materials and watch the hearing, visit https://vcrma.org/en/planning-commission.

Kathleen Wilson covers the Ventura County government, including the county health system, politics and social services. Reach her at kathleen.wilson@vcstar.com or 805-437-0271.

This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Ventura County to reconsider bond, insurance increases for oil and gas