Hermosa Beach residents filled the community theater on July 24 to learn about the Environmental Impact Report that will examine the effects of E&B Natural Resources’ proposed oil-drilling project and voice their concerns about what they would like the EIR to include.
The Ventura-based Marine Research Specialists will conduct the EIR, which will be one tool to help voters decide whether or not to lift the city’s ban on oil production in Hermosa Beach. If oil drilling is allowed, then E&B would begin a 35-year project at the city’s maintenance yard that they claim would bring up to $500 million in revenue to the community. In addition to the EIR, the city has ordered a Health Impact Analysis and a Cost-Benefit Analysis. Residents will vote on the matter most likely in November of 2014. Consultant Ed Almanza will manage the research timeline and communication, working with city staff, MRS and Hermosa Beach residents.
The slated two-hour EIR scoping meeting extended to four hours as residents asked numerous questions and voiced their concerns. A majority of questions were about increased cancer risks, seismic activity, impacts on the ocean floor and surf break, changes to soil and air quality at nearby South Park, noise from drilling and emergency flare-ups, the impact of polluted air and soil on endangered lizards and birds who call Hermosa Beach home, and how the city would be able to resolve accidents from spills and blowouts.
“We have limited open space here. This project is going to butt up against the greenbelt, which is a very valued open space on our community. What are the environmental impacts on that space that children, residents and visitors use on a daily basis?” said Jose Bacallao of Heal the Bay.
Others asked for evacuation plans.
“I have neglected to see any fault lines. There are fault lines around here, and none of your diagrams have shown that,” one resident said. “I’m just curious why that is. Do you really think that you can mitigate an earthquake? I think that’s fallacious on its face. This city has voted historically over years, decades – we don’t want oil here. There’s a hundred years of this stuff already. It’s over.”
Most residents who spoke opposed the oil proposal outright, stating that any increased health or environmental risk was too high, while a few said they would wait to see what the EIR recommended.
“Even though we may have emotions about whether we want oil here or not, a lot of us make decisions based on reviewing reports. I am interested in seeing this scoping developed so that I can read reports,” said resident and business owner Johnnie Morgan.
Some residents wanted to know if local stakeholders would be able to ensure E&B follows recommendations if the ban is lifted through an oversight committee.
“I want to know if there’s a prepared maintenance and QC system that will be required, so should the project be approved, will there be ongoing maintenance records and oversight that the public could have access to so we could know these things are being done on an ongoing basis?” he said. “A lot of times when there’s a project of this kind of nature, there’s a lot of work that goes into getting them to be approved, but then after they’re approved, I’d like to know if the citizens of Hermosa Beach could have a role in monitoring these programs.”
Almanza called the residents’ dialogue around oil, the EIR and the E&B proposal “very complex.”
E&B’s proposal includes 30 oil wells and four injection wells in the 1.3 acre lot at the city yard, with a 32-foot tall fence along the perimeter during drilling that would shrink to 16-feet during extraction. An 87-foot tall drilling rig, which translates to nearly nine stories, would be used to prepare the site.
Residents wondered how the proposal fit with the three-story, 30-foot height limitation set by city code. According to the city, changes to zoning and height requirements will be included in the ballot measure.
MRS is responsible for making a recommendation about whether the proposal is feasible and how environmental risk factors can be minimized through mitigation techniques. Although hired by the city, the contract with MRS will be paid for through reimbursements from E&B.
Luis Perez of MRS said that his company has been hired by both municipalities and oil companies, but they stand by the integrity of every EIR, regardless of the contracting agency.
Perez explained that if the EIR outcome in a no-drilling recommendation, MRS is required by law to analyze an alternative recommendation.
The company will take Hermosa’s carbon neutrality goals, the cool cities initiative and Blue Zones Project designation into consideration during its analysis.
The draft EIR will be completed in November or December followed by a 60-day comment period. Some residents asked MRS to consider moving the release of the draft to January to avoid the holiday season.
Almanza said that he would be available to speak with residents and community groups as often as necessary to maintain an open dialogue and advised residents to reach out to Robertson to schedule an appointment.
The entire transcript of the scoping meeting will be available on the city’s website around Aug. 7.
Residents are encouraged to submit topics they would like to see covered in the EIR by contacting Community Development Director Ken Robertson. He can be reached Monday through Thursday at firstname.lastname@example.org, (310) 318-0242 or in person at 1315 Valley Drive. Roberston will be collecting written comments on the scope of the EIR until Aug. 12.
E&B’s plan is to drill for oil at the city’s maintenance yard after playing a key role in city’s settlement with Macpherson Oil last spring, ending a decades-long lawsuit. E&B paid Don Macpherson $30 million to abruptly halt his push for claiming $750 million in damages from the city reneging on its contract after residents approved Measure E in 1995 to ban oil drilling.
A jury was set to hear the case and could have determined how much the city would owe Macpherson, but E&B jumped in and reached a deal with Hermosa Beach. Part of E&B and Hermosa Beach’s settlement agreement states that if the voters decide to allow oil-drilling to take place, the city will pay E&B $3.5 million, which would be paid out from the city’s initial oil royalties. However, if voters stick to their ban, the city will have to pay E&B $17.5 million, leaving the company short $12.5 million of the $30 million it paid to Macpherson.