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California Enviros Challenge SoCal Oil Drilling Plan in Court

Three California environmental groups on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court seeking to stop plans of California Resources Corp. (CRC) from drilling 19 new oil wells in an area bisected by a popular hiking trail in Ventura County up the coast 50 miles from Los Angeles.

Led by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the trio has sued the elected county board for approving on a 3-2 vote last month the new well drilling, despite objections raised by hundreds of hikers and local residents and what the groups consider expert scientific testimony recommending the plan be rejected.

The lawsuit in the California Superior Court in Ventura County by CBD, Los Padres ForestWatch, and Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas asked the court to block drilling along the Santa Paula Canyon Trail leading into the Los Padres National Forest, pending an environmental impact report (EIR) under the state review requirements.

The groups allege that the county relied on a nine-page assessment from the industry that includes CRC, Vintage Production California LLC and Seneca Resources Corp. among others, instead of preparing a more thorough EIR. The proposed drilling would double the number of oil wells in the area, according to the court filing.

CRC is the applicant for additional drilling and operates the 19 existing wells in Santa Paula Canyon.

"The Ventura County Board approved the modification of our longstanding Ferndale land-use permit after a diligent review of a comprehensive record by the county planning staff and the board," the company said. County officials met the review requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), according to the company, which added that it remains committed "to environmental protection as we continue to develop affordable, reliable energy in a safe and responsible manner."

Industry organizations were not named in the lawsuit and had no specific reaction to the legal move against the county. However, a spokesperson for the California Independent Producers Association (CIPA) reiterated the economic benefits that oil/gas development brings to Ventura County: 9,000 jobs and $1.4 billion in business sales annually as most recently estimated.

"Stopping oil production in Ventura would hurt local communities by creating a greater reliance on imported oil, which will drive up energy costs for families who can least afford it," said the CIPA spokesperson, adding that California has "the toughest protections in the nation for oil production."

Nevertheless, the environmental groups allege that the county approval was "faulty" and they want the court to issue writs of mandate to prevent any drilling until a subsequent EIR is completed.

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