Why are we approving new drilling during an oil glut? (YOUR comments due by June 9!)

  • Published on May 22nd, 2020

This action alert from the Sunflower Alliance reveals that a  new application for exploratory oil and gas drilling in unincorporated Brentwood, in east Contra Costa County in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, is being submitted during the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic as oil prices have plummeted to below zero and dozens of oil tankers are congregated off the California coast with no place to store their oil.

San Francisco by oil spill - why are we adding more drilling?

By Dan Bacher

In light of Governor Gavin Newsom’s promotion of the environmentally destructive Delta Tunnel and voluntary agreements and the Trump administration’s release of its even more environmentally devastating biological opinions and water plans, the last thing we need is new oil drilling in East Contra Costa County. Please submit your comments by June 9:

When we think of the fossil fuel industry in Contra Costa County, what probably comes to mind is coal export (Richmond) or oil refining (Richmond and the rest of the county).  Contra Costa County hosts four of the five Bay Area refineries that make up the second largest refining center on the West Coast.  But it is also the eighth largest center of oil and gas extraction in the state, right after Santa Barbara and just before San Luis Obispo.

In light of this history, perhaps it’s not surprising that the County just reviewed a brand new application for exploratory drilling in unincorporated Brentwood—and found it good.  A county planner has done a perfunctory environmental review of the proposal for three exploratory oil and gas wells and a permanent well if “commercial quantities” are found, along with a gas pipeline extending under the city of Antioch.  The County and intends to issue, pending public comment, and in the parlance of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a “negative declaration.”  In other words, nothing to look at here, folks, move along:  more oil and gas drilling will have absolutely no negative impacts on public health or climate.

The deadline for public comment on this “neg dec” has been extended thanks to public pressure.   Please email comments on the proposal by 5 PM on Tuesday, June 9 to Syd.Sotoodeh@dcd.cccounty.us .

So here we are at the height of a pandemic learning that some fast operator wants to increase oil drilling in East County.  Indiana-based PowerDrive Oil and Gas Company, LLC specializes in “rejuvenating neglected California oil fields,” and has active wells going in Kern and Orange counties.  (PowerDrive is also connected to global wastewater management, but that’s another story.)  Now it’s got its eyes on the Old Brentwood Oil and Gas Field, which was first discovered in 1965, and whose heyday was a half century ago.  It seems that PowerDrive wants to get the party started all over again, and on agricuturally-zoned land, no less.

This may not sit well with close neighbors to the proposed drilling site who are a mere 700 or 1,100 feet away, depending on who’s counting.  Or with the elementary school only a half mile away.  Or the adjacent shopping centers and neighborhoods.  We have learned a lot since the mid-sixties about the terrible health impacts caused by living near oil and gas development.  A FracTracker literature review found these impacts include higher cancer risk, depression, pneumonia, increased asthma attacks, skin-related hospitalizations, depression, and other general health symptoms.  For pregnant women, living closer to drilling sites is associated with high-risk pregnancies and premature births, a higher risk of having babies with birth defects, and low birth-weight babies.

Current research shows that a 2,500-foot setback from drilling sites is on the lower end of the range of distances which could reduce the harmful health and quality of life impacts from toxic emissions and exposures.  Proposed state legislation, AB345, recommends 2,500-foot setbacks from oil and gas extraction sites in order to protect “sensitive receptors such as schools, childcare facilities, playgrounds, residences, hospitals, and health clinics based on health, scientific, and other data.”  We truly hope the setbacks bill will be heard—and passed—in the coming legislative season.  (It will need our strong support.)  In the meantime, these known health impacts go wholly unmentioned in the County’s environmental review.  (See this compilation of research on the Public health risks of oil and gas drilling .)

We urge you to read this drilling proposal for yourself and share this information with as many people as you know.

Please email comments on the proposal

by 5 PM on Tuesday, June 9 

to Syd.Sotoodeh@dcd.cccounty.us 

Here’s the opening description of the project, whose intended site lies south of Heidorn Ranch Road (the County review misidentifies it as “Hidden Ranch Road”) and Old Sand Creek Road, in a predominately agricultural area:

“The applicant seeks approval of a Land Use Permit to allow the establishment of a gas and oil well pad on an agriculturally zoned parcel.  The project proposes to use a temporary, portable drilling rig to drill and explore for the accumulation of oil and/or gas within the Old Brentwood Oil and Gas Field.  Three exploratory wells will be drilled, and if oil and/or gas is found in commercial quantities, casing will be installed and a smaller completion rig will be moved in and a permanent production well will be installed.  Exploratory drilling time is estimated to take approximately 20 days per well with continuous 24 hour per day, 7 days a week operation until completion.  If commercial quantities are found, installation of a completion rig will take an additional 30 days, and the rig will operate about 12 hours per day.  The proposal also includes the installation of a gas pipeline, which will run approximately 4-feet under the existing access road and will be 3-inches in diameter. The total length of this pipeline will be approximately 3,350 linear feet, though most of it will be within the city limits of Antioch.”

Please read and respond however you can to the County’s repeated claims of “no significant impacts” and its outrageous insistence that an Environmental Impact Report is unnecessary.  It most definitely is.  The comments you submit rebutting County assertions about any aspect of the project will become part of the legal record.   We’ve attached a PDF below with three general talking points that take issue with the County’s declared interest in turning Contra Costa into Kern County North.  Despite what the County says:

  • Yes, drilling has very significant health impacts.
  • No, California does not need to produce more oil.
  • Any new fossil fuel extraction increases global emissions.   That’s really not good.

Three Talking Points – pdf

Public health risks of oil and gas drilling –  pdf

East Bay Express, The Oil Well Next Door

Bay City News Service, Comment Period Extended for Brentwood Area 

Sign the Sierra Club petition.

No Drilling in Brentwood Facebook page.

(Photo CC by Ingrid Taylar on Flickr.)

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.

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