The City Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday for a permanent ordinance banning hydrocarbon drilling in Beverly Hills. The last active oil well in the city is on the Beverly Hills High School campus and is order to stopped operating by the end of 2016.
The law prohibits oil, gas or other hydrocarbon extraction after December 31, 2016. The council can, however, “extend that deadline should there be a finding of public interest,” said City Planner Jonathan Lait. Any surface drilling operations that are based outside the city limits but that are aimed at reserves under the city must be at least 500 feet from a Beverly Hills school or park.
The last remaining local oil well is located on the campus of BHHS and is currently the well that is fueling the debate. Residents and the majority of city council members say health concerns are the primary motivation for the drilling ban. However, some members of the Board of Education and homeowners who receive royalties from Venoco Inc., which owns the BHHS oil well, have cited fiscal concerns in the form of lost revenue and have voted against the ordinance.
Ken Goldman, president of the Southwest Beverly Hills Homeowners Association said, “We’re not for banning drilling or against it, we just don’t’ think there are enough facts. We do not know what basis you or anybody else has for stopping the drilling. What exact dangers does it pose?” Goldman estimated that between 600 and 700 households in the city’s southern section currently receive royalties from Venoco.
Slant drilling, which would allow a well to be set up outside the city but still tap into the oil reserves under the high school is still an alternative possibility to the ban. If Venoco found a site where slant drilling was possible, residents, the city and the Beverly Hills Unified School District would still earn royalties. The city and school district currently receive between $700,000 and $1 million annually from Venoco as part of the high school well’s lease agreement. The exact amount depends on the amount of barrels extracted and oil market prices.
Councilman Julian Gold said, “We will try to find creative ways to replace that money. But…having an oil well on a high school campus is inconsistent with our existing city law, inconsistent with our general plan, it’s inconsistent with state law as it relates to new schools, and frankly, I cannot find a justification for it other than the money.”
Source: Beverly Hills Patch