Second District Court of Appeal Upholds EIR Addendum for Oil and Gas Wells
The Second District Court of Appeal issued an unpublished decision in the case Los Padres Forestwatch et al., v. County of Ventura on May 1, 2019, addressing the preparation of an EIR addendum for a 2015 CUP allowing the continued operation of existing oil and gas wells and the addition of new wells. The case has a long history and demonstrates the usefulness of CEQA’s subsequent review provisions where the original document is an EIR.
The County of Ventura first allowed drilling at the subject property on single site from six oil and gas wells in 1976 with a modified CUP and a negative declaration. The County prepared an EIR and the CUP was certified in 1978 to allow thirty more wells on five additional sites. In 1983, an MND was prepared for a proposal to transfer approved but not yet drilled wells to a new drill site. However, the County Board of Supervisors requested that a focused EIR on traffic issues be prepared, which it certified in 1985. The CUP approval now allowed a total of thirty-six wells on seven drill sites.
The drilling period for the thirty-six wells was set to expire in 2011, and the 1985 CUP was set to expire in 2015. Nineteen wells remained undrilled at the time of CUP expiration, so the current corporate interest, California Resources Corporation, applied for a modification to the 1985 CUP to allow drilling of the nineteen previously approved wells. The County approved an addendum to the 1984 and 1978 EIR’s for the project. Project opponents filed a petition, arguing that the County was required to prepare a supplemental or subsequent EIR rather than an addendum.
The trial court disagreed with petitioners, and the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed. On appeal, the Second District explained that, where the originally approved document is an EIR, an agency’s determination whether a subsequent or supplemental EIR is required is reviewed for substantial evidence. However, since only traffic-related impacts were considered for drill site 7 in the 1984 focused EIR, the fair argument standard applied to any allegations regarding non-traffic impacts for drill site 7, which had only been considered in the 1983 MND. While petitioners raised several arguments, the Court concluded that petitioners failed to submit sufficient evidence to support even a fair argument. Thus, an subsequent or supplemental EIR was not required.