The Science is Clear; Policy Makers Should Make It Their Guide

Published in the Ventura County Star

April 21, 2021

By Ben Oakley, Manager of the California Coastal Region at Western States Petroleum Association

The headline from the Ventura County Star article about the new United States Geological Survey (USGS) study on the Oxnard Oilfield and water says it all: “Long-awaited study shows no major health concerns from water wells on Oxnard Plain,” February 9, 2021; yet accusations and charges persist that the field is the cause of contamination. In this era of Covid-19 we’ve all been admonished to “trust the science.” In the case of the USGS study we should do the same.

Because when activists use fear and intimidation rather than science to influence public policy, they lead all of us down the wrong path – a path that is riddled with serious consequences and could cost the jobs of more than 2,000 citizens of the Central Coast; a path that will increase our dependance on foreign oil, and a path will surely result in additional economic harm to everyone just as we are finding our way out of the disasters brought on by Covid-19.

Let’s take a closer look at the study. The new USGS study on the Oxnard Oilfield confirms no groundwater contamination from the oil industry. Our groundwater meets all drinking water standards.  Those are facts. In addition, scientists agree that the materials detected by USGS in the water could be from naturally occurring sources. In this case, government did the right thing. Charges of groundwater pollution had been raised and scientists at the USGS set about to see whether it was true. The result: they found no major health concerns from water wells in the Oxnard Oilfield.

Here’s the language directly from the study; “Comparison of historical oil-field water chemistry data with historical and collected groundwater samples indicated no detections of petroleum hydrocarbons, inorganic constituents, isotopes, or other dissolved constituents and no evidence of mixing of water from oil-bearing formations with groundwater overlying the Oxnard Oil Field.” That’s strong language. It’s a clear statement. It is what should guide policy.

In addition, the study did find some concentrations of other things in our water but: Methane and other light hydrocarbon gases are not regulated drinking water constituents posing a known health risk, and the presence of these gases at concentrations <10 mg/L do not indicate degraded water quality.  Again, the findings of the study are clear. Our water quality is fine.

Unfortunately, before the study was complete, activists used fears of groundwater contamination to convince local leaders to impose a drilling moratorium and other policies including zoning ordinance amendments and general plan policies aimed at shutting down the oil industry.  Those actions have resulted in some disturbing consequences. The list isn’t pretty:

  • Ventura County is now faced with almost a dozen lawsuits over its policies;
  • Ventura County could lose the significant tax revenue from the oil industry that supports critical services like fire, police, and schools; and
  • Over 2,000 local families could lose their jobs, which are family-wage jobs with benefits that are essential to the economy of Ventura County.

This whole episode should serve as a cautionary tale for policy makers: our future must be shaped by facts and science, not fears … because when we let science lead us, we protect the health of our community as well as the livelihoods of local workers. I’m very glad the USGS study confirms our water is safe. This should be welcome news for Ventura County residents as well.

Ben Oakley is the Manager of the California Coastal Region at Western States Petroleum Association. Read about WSPA’s commitment to science and safety at



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