Over 200 Hermosa Beach residents packed in to the Community Theater last Wednesday to attend the first of several meetings regarding the proposed E&B Oil & Gas Production Project.
The meeting was intended to introduce the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and allow residents to ask the city’s hired environmental consultant, Marine Research Specialists (MRS) a variety of questions about the project.
“We were hired to be a third independent party that works for the city; we don’t work for the oil company,” said Luis Perez, project manager at MRS, responding to a resident who asked who paid for firm’s consulting services. “We were tasked to do an independent review of the project,”
He added that the City of Hermosa Beach pays for MRS’s services, but the consultants are reimbursed by E&B Oil.
“It sort of seems as if it would be unfair if members of the public would have to pay our costs because you have nothing to do with the proposed project,” said Perez, adding that E&B has no sway over their findings.
In late May, the consultants were hired by the city at an estimated cost of $794,000. They were chosen to review the EIR after an extensive interview process and were selected because of the company’s experience with oil and gas production as well as knowledge of such production in an urban setting.
“Our review doesn’t say if the project should be approved or denied,” Perez added. “We just answer the questions.”
The oil project has been an off-and-on issue for Hermosa Beach for almost a century. The current controversy will allow residents to vote on whether oil and gas production should be allowed on a site currently occupied by the City’s Public Works Maintenance Yard at 555 6th Avenue. If approved, the 1.3 acre site would be used as a drilling and production site, potentially allowing the directional drilling of 30 wells to access oil and gas reserves in the tidelands and uplands. The current project, if approved, is proposed to last 35 years and potentially net the city as much as $500 million in royalties. If locals vote no, in accordance with a 2012 settlement between the city and E&B, a 1932 ban on oil drilling would be upheld and the city would be required to pay E&B oil $17.5 million.
At Wednesday’s meeting, citizens asked questions about the project for almost four hours. The three minute time limit usually observed at city council meetings was not in effect, and residents were allowed to ask the consulting company multiple questions, sometimes lasting upwards of ten minutes.
“One of the things I noticed is that you have a 32-foot wall that is going to be put up and the city limit is 30-feet,” resident Andre Sharp said, pausing for thunderous applause from the majority of the audience. “How are we allowing 32 feet? Number two, there’s an 87-foot tall item, I have to look at a something that’s nine stories? You’ve got to be kidding!”
“That’s what the applicant is proposing,” Perez said, in a measured voice. “It hasn’t been reviewed yet.”
“I still want to know if individuals that build houses cannot go above 30-feet, why is the applicant allowed to build a wall that’s 32-feet and put out a structure that is 9 stories tall?”
“It’s not a given that the applicant is allowed that,” Perez said “We’re at the beginning of the analysis phase. This is just what the applicant has applied for.”
Other residents asked questions about potential earthquakes and sink holes as well as air quality and a potential pipeline that would be installed spanning the South Bay.
A point of contention between one resident and Steven Radis, the MRS Principal Project Manager, was the question of whether E&B is proposing to extract the oil by fracking, a highly controversial way of extracting oil by injecting fluids into the earth at a high pressure to fracture shale rock and release natural gas.
“This is a joke, this process is a joke,” the resident said, after Perez assured him that fracking was not proposed in the application.
“Liar!” the resident shouted.
“Who do we have next?” Perez asked.
Hermosa Beach senior planner Pam Townsend feverishly wrote each question asked on a large board. Community Development Department Project Manager Ed Almanza assured the audience in the beginning that all of their questions would be recorded and reviewed after the meeting.
“We’re going to be in this together, and for all time – probably for the rest of my life,” resident Chris Miller said. “Many of us will never know a day without this. I want us to take a moment to appreciate the days we have and really treasure it, because in my mind Hermosa is just about perfect the way it is, and maybe the way it isn’t.”
The next meeting is scheduled for September 11. Visit http://www.hermosabch.org for more information. ER