CLEAN WATER ACT ENFORCEMENT ACTION INITIATED AGAINST SOUTH MOUNTAIN OIL AND GAS FIELD
Oil Company Threatened With Federal Lawsuit for
Illegal Storm Water Discharges to Santa Clara River and Calleguas Creek Watersheds
EDC’s notice letter alleges that CRC, for at least the past five years, has consistently violated California’s permit that protects rivers and streams from industrial facilities’ polluted storm water runoff. The notice states that CRC is discharging total suspended solids and other pollutants orders of magnitude above water quality benchmarks and guidelines; failing to implement mandated treatment controls at their drilling pads, access roads and other pollution sources; developing an inadequate sampling and monitoring program; and failing to develop an adequate storm water pollution prevention plan, among other violations.
"The storm water pollution from the South Mountain oil field threatens water quality in two important Ventura County watersheds, both of which drain to area beaches," stated Brian Segee, EDC Senior Attorney. "We hope that our notice will convince CRC to clean up its operations and meet Clean Water Act standards, but EDC is prepared to go to court if necessary."
Storm water is among the top sources of water contamination in southern California, as significant quantities of pollution enter our waterways during rain events. Oil field operations such as those conducted at the South Mountain oil field, including operation of miles of unpaved roads, construction, well drilling, well completion and stimulation (including hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”), production, and equipment maintenance, commonly discharge a wide range of conventional and hazardous pollutants, including total suspended solids, oil and grease, pH, benzene, lead, arsenic, chlorides, and ethanol xylenes. The adverse impacts of these pollutants on water quality can pose risks to fish and other aquatic organisms, wildlife, and human health.
Under California’s “General Permit For Storm Water Discharges Associated With Industrial Activities,” industrial facilities are prohibited from discharging pollutants, including total suspended solids, oil and grease, and toxic chemicals, in excess of water quality standards and without applying the best available and best conventional pollution treatment technologies to their pollution sources. CRC has consistently reported pollution levels well above applicable guidelines and benchmarks, yet has failed to take corrective action to remedy the pollution.
This is the second recent legal action EDC has filed against CRC for violations of the CWA at its oil fields. The first lawsuit, settled in 2012, was brought to address discharges from the Rincon Grubb field that drains to heavily utilized Ventura County beaches including Hobson’s, Pitas Point, Mondos, and Solimar. In a recent study of pollution at Rincon Grubb arising from that legal settlement, researchers found that storm water samples had high concentrations of total suspended and dissolved solids containing excessive levels of aluminum, arsenic, barium, lead, and zinc, as well as naphthalene and oil and grease. The study also detected excessive concentrations of other toxic metals, including chrysene, antimony, copper, mercury, and nickel. It is likely that those same pollutants exist at the South Mountain oil field, yet CRC has not taken measures to sample for and monitor those pollutants.
Under the Clean Water Act, potential litigants must send a 60-day notice of intent to sue before lawsuits can be filed alleging that a facility is in violation of the Act. While EDC is committed to pursuing legal remedies if necessary, the organization’s hope is that submission of the notice will prompt CRC to comply with its mandatory permit requirements, thereby protecting water quality, without court intervention.
CRC was created in 2014 when Occidental Petroleum Corporation (“OXY”), an international oil and gas exploration and production company headquartered in Houston, Texas, separated its California assets into an independent, publicly traded company. CRC is the state’s largest natural gas producer, largest oil and gas producer on a gross-operated basis, and largest oil and gas mineral acreage holder with approximately 2.3 million acres.
The Environmental Defense Center is being represented in this action by Michael Lozeau and Doug Chermak of Lozeau Drury LLP and its in-house Staff Attorneys.
 Blue Tomorrow and Dr. Arturo Keller. Northern Ventura County Coastal Watershed Project and Assessment (2014).
The Environmental Defense Center, a non-profit law firm, protects and enhances the local environment through education, advocacy, and legal action and works primarily within Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties. Since 1977, EDC has empowered community-based organizations to advance environmental protection. Program areas include climate and energy, and protecting clean water, the Santa Barbara Channel, and open space and wildlife. Learn more about EDC at www.EnvironmentalDefenseCenter.org
Lozeau Drury LLP is an environmental law firm representing non-profit environmental and recreational groups, labor organizations, neighborhood associations, and Indian tribes in their efforts to create and protect livable neighborhoods and cities, clean up air and water pollution, protect endangered species, protect open spaces, reduce exposures to toxic pollutants, and create clean, safe jobs.