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Ban Urged on New Oil Wells in Los Padres

The national forest may contain 96 million barrels. But Ventura Supervisor Bennett wants the county board to oppose exploration.

September 09, 2003|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

A Ventura County supervisor today will ask his colleagues to oppose any new oil and gas exploration in the Los Padres National Forest.

Supervisor Steve Bennett wants the county board to draft a letter outlining its opposition to any new leases in the wilderness area stretching from Big Sur to Fillmore.

The U.S. Forest Service has identified about 140,000 acres in southern portions of the Los Padres forest as potentially productive for oil and gas exploration and extraction. Restrictions on building roads could, however, limit actual drilling to much less than that, forest officials said.

But Bennett said any new exploration could harm wildlife and pollute areas set aside as natural preserves. He will ask the Board of Supervisors to send a letter to the forest supervisor recommending that no new leases be permitted.

"The national forests are designed to provide a really clean environment for everybody," Bennett said.

"When you start building roads and all that, it runs completely contrary to those goals."

Bennett also noted that Ventura County's history is steeped in oil production.

Santa Paula was the birthplace of the Union Oil Co., spawning decades of drilling operations in Ventura, Santa Paula and Fillmore.

Offshore platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel are still productive.

"Ventura County has already made substantial contributions to the energy resources of this country," Bennett said.

"To go into the pristine national forest doesn't make sense to me."

The Forest Service will release its final environmental analysis at the end of October, said Los Padres National Forest spokesman Al Hess.

It is studying the possible effects of several options for drilling and exploration in the forest lands and will identify a preferred alternative, Hess said.

While the county board can send a letter, it might make more sense to hold off until after that report is released, Hess said.

"We'd like to hear what the county has to say, but if they wait a little longer they will know what we are talking about," he said.

Federal officials estimate the forest reserve holds up to 96 million barrels of oil. But restrictions on building roads and a desire to minimize environmental damage means that the amount extracted will likely be much less, Hess said.

Officials are leaning toward "environmentally friendly" alternatives that envision 63 wells at most, he said. The wells would be located near existing roads or where there is a potential for slant drilling methods, Hess said.

Most of those lands are in Cuyama Valley or north of Fillmore where oil operations already exist, he said. Those options, however, would produce just 17 to 22 million barrels of oil and gas, he said.

"It's kind of a drop in the bucket that we might be contributing to the domestic production, but every drop counts," Hess said.

Federal law mandates that forest lands be periodically studied for possible mineral extraction. The current proposal, now in its eighth year of study, does just that, Hess said.

"It's part of our mission."

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