The Alameda County Board of Supervisors sided with appellants Tuesday by denying an extension of a conditional-use permit for the only oil-producing wells in the county.
The pair of oil wells located in rural unincorporated Livermore, and operated by E&B Natural Resources, annually produced roughly 10,000 barrels of oil, but an extension of its current permit for another 10 years had caused an uproar among local environmentalists. The well has been in operation since 1967.
The groups asserted the use of “waterflooding,” a method allowed by the county for injecting water into wells at high pressure in order to increase the yield of oil, poses hazards to the local aquifer. They also claimed the method might increase the likelihood of seismic activity.
The permit was approved by the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments last May. The decision was backed by various state regulatory agencies that found the claims made by opponents to be scientifically invalid. For these reasons, county staff had recommended that the board deny the appeal.
But perhaps with the possibility the board might be viewed as allowing harm to the environment, in tandem, with doing its part to exacerbate global warming, however infinitesimal, by backing the production oil drilling, four supervisors voted to deny the permit. Supervisor Nate Miley abstained.
Supervisors Richard Valle and Wilma Chan peppered representatives of E&B Natural Resources with questions centered on the company’s past record of fines. One included a finding that oil from a holding tank had soaked into the ground to a depth of 12 feet.
Valle also questioned why the company had not done a better job of reaching out to the community, for instance, organizing a town hall, when they were aware of the controversy the permit had created in the Livermore area.
Later, Chan pressed an E&B Natural Resources’ representative only whether they indeed planned on expanding their operation, as opponents had contended. They said no. “When I think of expansion, I think of adding new wells,” said the representative.
Specifically, the board’s reason for denying the permit was based on land-use and water issues, along with skepticism that a pair of oil wells in unincorporated Livermore represented a public need. Chan and Miley both suggested their votes would be cast differently had the company agreed to a full environmental impact study.
“I think 10 years is a really long time,” said Chan, “We don’t know what’s going to happen in that time.” Miley, though, reserved skepticism in his comments. “I’m not necessarily convince there is an issue with the water, but that’s why I think we need an [Environmental Impact Report].”
Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who represents the region, was far more certain, saying he believed the oil wells pose a potential danger to the aquifer.
“I can say this is probably not over,” said Haggerty. “I can’t go with staff recommendation, and I know in my hearts of hearts, this is going to wind up in court.”
The appellants, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Livermore Eco Watchdogs celebrated the board’s denial of E&B Natural Resources’ conditional-use permit.
“While the state continues to roll out the red carpet for the oil industry, Alameda County is showing what real climate leadership looks like,” said Jason Pfeifle, a climate campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s a powerful example of how local governments can step up to protect their communities and the climate from dangerous fossil fuel pollution.”
At the local level, Deborah McQueen, a local resident and member of Livermore Eco Watchdogs, said, in a statement, “The supervisors should be applauded for their tough stand against fossil fuel extraction. Sending this irresponsible polluter packing will help keep our groundwater safe from contamination — a huge victory for Livermore and our nearby communities.”