To drill or not to drill? City council explores zoning changes at Venoco plant
By Dale Myers
The Carpinteria City Council at its Nov. 24 meeting voted unanimously to further review oil and gas development regulations and heard a lengthy yet civil debate from an overflowing crowd on whether or not to ban onshore oil drilling in the city, specifically at Venoco Inc.’s property. Venoco, which has applied to drill at its Carpinteria Oil and Gas Processing Facility, has an existing zoning designation that allows it to drill for oil; however, a future alteration of the zoning code is possible, which if approved could re-designate land-use policy and ban drilling at the Dump Road property altogether or more closely regulate drilling projects.
Currently, land designated for Coastal Dependent Industry in Carpinteria is zoned to permit drilling for onshore oil, but the council’s decision asks city staff to review and/or recommend alterations to the types of industry that fit into the Coastal Dependent Industry category.
Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, urged the council to not be afraid of adopting a designation that protects the public from “risky” oil and gas operations. “You (the council) have the ability to re-designate properties in the public interest,” she said. Whereas Ian Livett, local vice president of Venoco, stated that any drilling at its Carpinteria location would be on just one acre, with initially a single onshore drill. “This does not include hydraulic fracturing and never will,” said Livett. “It will provide oil needed by California and (millions) in royalties to Carpinteria and Santa Barbara County.”
Opposing any ban on drilling were many other Venoco employees and associates who stressed that the company is environmentally friendly and provides much-needed jobs in a tough economy. Ike Ikerd, General Manager of Clean Seas, a Carpinteria company that provides oil-spill response equipment, trained personnel and expertise in the planning and execution of response techniques, said, “If the council goes through with this (banning drilling), it will cost jobs, and Clean Seas will go out of business.”
Proponents of drilling also pointed out that California is the largest consumer of oil in the United States and imports more than half of it to the state, and drilling in Carpinteria could alleviate some of that burden. “California uses 1.6 million barrels of oil a day and only produces 600,000, and the environmental impact of importing this much oil is astronomical,” said Livett. “Venoco is not Big Oil. We are committed to environmental protection.”
On the opposite side of the fence are many Carpinteria residents who wish to maintain the integrity of the bluffs and insist there is no such thing as safe oil. Gail Marshall of GOO (Get Oil Out) said Carpinteria “places a high priority on the bluffs” and encouraged the council to recall the aftermath of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, the largest oil spill in California history. Some opponents of drilling are also indifferent to the Paredon Project’s potential for revenue. They maintained that Carpinteria garners most of its revenue from tourism and strongly urged the council to ban drilling at the site.
However, city attorneys have expressed that Carpinteria would be vulnerable to litigation following such an action. In fact, “Any action here raises the possibility of litigation,” said Deputy City Attorney Jena Shoaf.
In conclusion, Mayor Brad Stein, who reiterated that the city has never shied away from litigation, said, “We will go forward with long-term planning and Venoco will go forward with its application.”
The next City Council meeting will take place on Monday, Dec. 8, at 5:30 p.m. in the Council Chamber at City Hall, 5775 Carpinteria Ave.