Apr 06, 2019

In March, activists in Ventura County claimed that United States Geological Survey (USGS) scientists had found “evidence of groundwater well contamination by oil operations” in the Oxnard Oil Field.

While that is actually not at all what the USGS scientists found, the misinformation effort seems to have taken hold. Citing “newly identified potential safety risks,” Supervisor Steve Bennett claims that the USGS study of groundwater wells in Oxnard provides evidence that new oilfield activity would pose “added risk” to the aquifers.

Supervisor Bennett is set to recommend a ban on new oil production next week. And just like the activists, his argument leaves out important facts and contexts.

Here are three things the Ventura County Board of Supervisors should keep in mind when reviewing Supervisor Bennett’s proposed ban:

  • First, while thermogenic gases were detected in deep water wells, the USGS explicitly stated that their study did not conclude oil field activity was the cause. The USGS study pointed out how that the gases detected were “naturally-occurring” and could have resulted from “natural vertical migration” underground through the formation or through wells.
  • Second, the USGS study did not identify any safety risks, only the presence of low concentrations of naturally-occuring thermogenic gases in deep groundwater wells. The low level of dissolved gases found in groundwater samples does not exceed any drinking water standards established by California regulatory authorities. Furthermore, experts have noted that the USGS sampled groundwater at 1,500 feet below the surface, just above hydrocarbon-bearing formations that exist at 2,000 feet below the surface. Given this small separation difference of only 500 feet, experts say it should be no surprise for naturally-occuring thermogenic gases to be found in deep groundwater wells in the Oxnard coastal plain.
  • Third, oil production in California is conducted under the most strict environmental, safety and health protections in the world. Production activities are regulated by more than 25 agencies at every level of government. In fact, the USGS study in question was conducted as part of the ongoing Regional Groundwater Monitoring Program in the Oxnard coastal plain – a program of the California State Water Resources Control Board created to meet requirements of California Senate Bill 4 related to oil and gas production. There is no need for Ventura County to suddenly insert itself into a well-functioning legal and regulatory framework that puts environmental, safety and health protections first.

Energy policy in Ventura County should be based on a full review of facts and science, not an incomplete record of misinformation pushed by activist groups.