The City Council voted three to two to allow Sentinel Peak Oil a ninety day hold on the release of the city’s environmental impact report. A lengthy motion introduced by Mayor Jim Clarke found a second with Council member Göran Eriksson, and with some additions by Council member Thomas Small, gave the new oil operation a window to present what they called “course corrections” to the EIR. The vote – with the ‘no’ from Council members Jeff Cooper and Meghan Sahli-Wells – came after almost four hours of presentation and debate.
At the special meeting of the City Council on April 18, 2017, Sentinel Peak, the latest in a series of oil companies to take control of the Inglewood Oil Field, filled the Mike Balkman Council Chamber with employees in what may be the first act of the next drama regarding oil drilling regulation.
When the City Clerk announced the number of speaker cards as 46, it would have been easy to assume that they were the residents with long standing issues in regard to the safety of the oil field. Locals who attend meetings in regard to the oil field have, in the past, numbered in the hundreds.
So when speaker after speaker introduced themselves as employees of Sentinel Peak, or long term oil field workers, or consultants working for the oil industry, it was not just an unexpected presentation but an extreme tactic.
The city’s EIR, which has been years in the making and has cost more than a million dollars, has already been very labor intensive. Assistant City Attorney Heather Baker observed “These regs have been like an octopus with many tentacles, and that is why we are here tonight, several years out from where we began.”
The EIR was completed in January of 2017 and was set to release in March for public comments, the next step in the process. Then Sentinel Peak took over production on the field from Freeport-MacMoRan in January, and asked to be involved with the city in the process.
More than a dozen Sentinel employees took the same tack as Al Lobos, who addressed the city council saying that “I just provide for my family. That is what I do.” Having the employees come in their coveralls to humbly beg for their jobs took the meeting into a level of political theater completely unexpected by the city staff or the council.
Christine Halley, the company’s Environmental Health and Safety Director asked that Sentinel be given time to complete a report that would cover every aspect of running the field, including uses for the property after drilling was stopped. ( A Los Angeles Times article on April 9 noted that SP was looking to put housing a on similarly tapped down oil field in Arlington Heights.)
Halley offered, ” I stand here deeply appreciating that people expect a certain standard. We expect paved roads, we expect a roof over our heads, and we expect to be able to gas up the car on the way home. We expect that.” She spoke at some length about other possible uses for the land that could co-exist with oil drilling or be a part of the landscape after drilling had stopped. This opened the possibility of the request for a report on the project taking an unspecified amount of time, as more and more factors were added to the list of things the company needed to consider before the EIR could be released.
Council member Jeff Cooper put the brakes on. “You’re big company, and I think you do your due diligence. Was there no point in this process [of taking over from Freeport -MacMoRan] that you knew Culver City had regulations coming out?”
Halley answered “Yes, we were aware, but there were no public documents available to us, so that is why we requested this meeting.”
Many of the Culver City residents who have turned out over the years to address the health and safety risks of living in proximity to a working oil field were also there to speak to the council. John Keuchle, a long term Culver Crest resident who is a member of the Citizens Advisory Council is also the co-chair of the county committee to oversee the oil field. He noted that “I don’t trust anyone, but I mistrust Sentinel Peak less than I mistrusted Freeport-McMoRan. Admittedly, that’s not a high bar.”
Both Freeport MacMoRan and predecessor PXP were involved in multiple lawsuits with the city over many years.
Dr. C.T. Williams spoke to the meetings, saying “CEQA does allow for changes and for additions to the EIR. It’s not uncommon with projects of this scale. Issue the EIR and the regs, so you get a cornerstone set, and then you can change, if need be. It’s called ‘the locally preferred option.’ I’ve done about 400 EIR reports going back to 1972. Getting the public to participate, that is the most important part.”
Paul Ferrazzi put it simply, “I think this is a disingenuous gambit to delay the release of the EIR.”
When the council members were preparing to call the vote, Mayor Clarke offered an intricate motion for the city to co-operate with the oil company’s request.
Seconded by Eriksson, the motion was modified by some additional requirements by Council member Small. While the company was not granted the open ended time line to review their project, the city gave them 90 days until the next meeting to address the release of the EIR.