Mineral Extraction Project Information
A big part of Whittier’s early growth and prosperity was as a result of oil production within the Whittier Hills. Much of the Los Angeles basin has seen similar oil production activity during the last century as well. Starting in the early 1900s over 500 oil wells were developed in the Whittier Hills. The majority of these wells were established in what was commonly known as the Whittier Main Field. The Whittier Main Field was in production for nearly 100 years however, this largely stopped due to reductions in the price of oil during the 1990s.
At the time that oil production was stopping the City was also under pressure as oil companies were looking to develop their land for hillside housing. In response, the City Council seized the opportunity to preserve the hills from development growth pressures and in the mid-1990s the City purchased the majority of the former oil fields from Chevron and Unocal with Measure A Park Bond funds in order to preserve this land as open space and wildlife habitat. This land is now managed for the City by the Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority (Habitat Authority), a joint powers agency with members including the City of Whittier, County of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Sanitation District and Hacienda Heights Improvement Association.
At the time most oil production stopped, oil was selling at approximately $12 per barrel. In 2008 the Whittier City Council began investigating the potential for leasing the rights to the oil as crude oil prices had risen to approximately $100 per barrel. Subterranean mapping of the hills showed that there were still significant untapped oil reserves in the Whittier Main Field.
The City entered into a lease agreement with Matrix Oil Company in 2008 as part of a bid process. In response to their selection, Matrix filed a request for a conditional use permit to allow for oil production. An environmental impact report was prepared to assess the potential impact of the project and numerous hearings were held before the City’s Planning Commission and City Council. The City Council ultimately certified the Final Environmental Impact Report and approved the Conditional Use Permit on November 28, 2011. Site grading and construction of the test well site commenced but was halted upon the filing of litigation. Several of the groups that opposed the project and entered into litigation against the project subsequently settled with the City and Matrix, including the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) and the Open Space Legal Defense Fund.
Why did the City consider pursuing this oil project?
The Council sought to achieve two primary goals to benefit Whittier residents:
- Provide for the long-term fiscal stability for the City to provide needed public services to residents and;
- Facilitate the long-term preservation and enhancement of the Preserve’s ecological resources and native habitat.
The City Council’s project approval requires the oil company to provide nearly $100 million to be paid over the life of the project for mitigation in the Preserve. This includes removal of invasive plant species, revegetation with appropriate native plant materials to enhance habitat, study for the potential installation of a crossing beneath Colima Road for wildlife, etc.
Also, significant changes have occurred in oil production technology since the 1990s. New methods of drilling and pumping are much less invasive to the surface and environment. Rather than individual oil pumps scattered across the hills, oil can now be produced through a single small site (1%-2% of the entire site) where directionally-drilled wells can be clustered within an underground vault, thereby leaving the vast bulk of the habitat preserve untouched.
Wouldn’t this project remove much of the site from recreational use available to the public?The project proposes a seven-acre production site that has the potential to cumulatively impact 22.1 acres at one corner of the Preserve. Only 2% of the former oil lands and .6% of the total Preserve would be affected - the remaining 3,837 acres Habitat Preserve would be left untouched - not impacting access or enjoyment to recreational users.
What adverse impacts would the project have on the environment?The Final EIR identified several significant and unavoidable impacts that could not be mitigated below levels of significance despite application of various mitigation measures. These impacts included impacts to air emissions from construction activity, increase in greenhouse gasses associated with project operations, potential degrading of view sheds, and potential for rupture or leakage of pipelines. All other potential impacts were determined to be less than significant with implementation of mitigation measures. A more full explanation of the various impacts and mitigation measures is available for review in the Final EIR.
What measures were required by the project to benefit the Whittier Hills habitat?
The oil project’s CUP approval and Final EIR require the following habitat mitigation and enhancement:
- Revegetation of approximately 25 acres with native seed material around the west end of the Colima tunnel to provide better cover and attract more animals to use the tunnel. (EIR Mit. Measure BIO-4h and CUP COA #23)
- Establishment of a Land Acquisition/Revegetation fund in the amount of one percent (1%) of gross proceeds, up to $15.0 million. These funds are to be used for acquisition of additional open space land however, if purchase of such lands cannot be accomplished within 10 years of establishment of the fund, the funds could be used to revegetate disturbed property to improve habitat to afford more and better foraging opportunities for wildlife. (CUP COA #80)
- Preparation of a study to determine the feasibility of an additional underpass or overpass north of the existing underpass on Colima Road and to decide which is most advantageous to animal survival while crossing Colima Road. If an additional wildlife crossing is recommended, Matrix Oil will bear all costs of the design and engineering, environmental review and mitigation (if required) and construction costs of the wildlife passageway/crossing. Matrix is required to advance the funds necessary to build any additional wildlife crossing, but the full amount of the costs advanced will constitute a credit against the Land Acquisition/Revegetation Fund established (pursuant to COA 80). (CUP COA #81)
- Creation of an exotic eradication/habitat enhancement program within designated priority areas within the Preserve and Project site – including annual contributions of $30,000 per year (with annual CPI increases). (CUP COA #70.2)
- A Conservation Easement on the City-owned Preserve Land, except for the surface areas approved for use in the Project. (CUP COA #74)
- Funding for preparation of a multi-year, scientific study to evaluate the wildlife movement patterns of bobcats and other wildlife species utilizing the Preserve. (EIR Mit. Measure Cumulative BIO-1c)
- To mitigate the Project's loss of coastal sage scrub (4.84 acres) and loss of habitat value due to the Project’s noise impacts affecting 5.49 acres of coastal sage scrub, the project will restore 19.99 acres of degraded habitats in the La Cañada Verde and Arroyo Pescadero watersheds to coastal sage scrub communities. (EIR Mit. Measure BIO-1a)
- The project will restore 22.5 acres of degraded habitats in the La Cañada Verde and Arroyo Pescadero watersheds to native communities, as agreed to by the appropriate resource agencies and the City. (EIR Mit. Measure BIO-1b)
- To mitigate the Project's permanent loss of 0.22 acre of riparian habitat, the Applicant will provide a minimum 3:1 areal replacement. To mitigate the Project’s noise impacts affecting 0.75 acres of riparian habitat, Matrix will provide a minimum 1:1 areal replacement. In total, 1.41 acres of degraded areas will be restored within the La Cañada Verde and Arroyo Pescadero watersheds (or as otherwise agreed to by the appropriate resource agencies and the City). The 0.12 acre of temporary grading impact would be mitigated through the 1:1 revegetation as specified in BIO-1.b. (EIR Mit. Measure BIO-2a)
- A worker carpooling program will be instituted offsite and away from congested areas to reduce Project traffic through congested areas during all Project phases. (EIR Mit. Measure T-1b)
- The project will construct and maintain interpretative signage within the Preserve’s trails to provide an educational component about the Preserve, drilling activities, mitigation, descriptions of local wildlife, habitats, environmental values of the Puente Hills area, historic uses, etc. (EIR Mit. Measure REC-1)
- High volume, high pressure hydraulic fracturing is prohibited. (CUP COA #77)
- Corrugated pipe culverts will be installed under roads with significant increase in use within leased area to facilitate movement of vertebrates including rodents, reptiles, and amphibians. (CUP COA #70.4)
- Use of the North Access Road is prohibited ½ hour before sunset to ½ hour after sunrise. (CUP COA #21)
- To mitigate for noise impacts associated with truck traffic on the North Access Road, a minimum 1:1 areal replacement of native habitat affected by 60 dBA or above averaged hourly (1.1 acres) will be provided by the Applicant. (CUP COA #85)
Won’t this oil project allow the dangerous practice of fracking?The City’s approval specifically prohibits high volume, high pressure fracking. Water that is pumped as part of the normal byproduct of oil production will be reinserted back underground.
How is the oil project proposed to be developed and operated?
The drill site would be located north of the terminus of Catalina Avenue. As proposed, the fully developed project consists of a single pad with wells, and an oil processing plant, a gas plant, and an oil-truck loading facility all located on an approximately 6.9 acre site (Project Site) within the 1,290-acre City-owned Whittier Main Oil Field. A crude oil sales pipeline and a natural gas sales pipeline would be installed underneath existing Preserve roads (the Loop Trail Road) between the Project Site and Colima Road. The crude oil and gas pipelines would continue south under Colima Road to transport crude oil and natural gas to markets.
The Project Site would contain the oil and gas drilling and processing facilities on a single pad including a well area, a gas plant area and an oil plant area. The Project Site would consist of well cellars, well test stations, liquid and gas separating equipment, a truck loading facility, an oil processing facility, and a gas plant. The total permanent area required for the pad would be approximately 6.9 acres with an additional 8.2 acres of roadways (6.5 for project roadways and 1.7 acres for the secondary fire access along the Loop Trail Road), most of which are currently present. The County of Los Angeles Fire Department (LACoFD) may require a fuel modification zone (FMZ). An FMZ is a strip of land is where combustible native or ornamental vegetation is modified or partially or totally replaced with drought-tolerant, low-fuel volume plants to reduce fire risk around the facility. The Fire Department has stated that it would require FMZ of 20 feet for facility pads, 10 feet for roads and 100 feet for the office building. The FMZ would encompass an additional 6.9 acres along roadways and around the pads. Up to 8.5 additional acres may be temporarily disturbed for construction and grading the site including areas disturbed for parking and staging of construction equipment. These 8.5 acres would be re-vegetated after construction is completed. The total impacted area associated with pads, roads, FMZ, and construction-related temporarily disturbed areas would be 30.6 acres.
Roads, pipelines, and utility poles would be constructed. Electrical and pipeline interconnections would be made to the Southern California Edison (SCE) grid and the City of Whittier Sewer and Water District systems. After initial testing, access to the Project would be from both Catalina Avenue and Penn Street through the Savage Canyon Landfill property and through the Preserve to the Project Site (North Access Road). Vehicles with two axles and weighing less than 3 tons, and vehicles weighing less than 3 tons with two axles towing a single-axle trailer, would access the Project Site through Catalina Avenue (generally, automobiles and pickups).
Vehicles with more than two axles or weighing more than 3 tons (generally trucks), or vehicles towing larger trailers, would access the Project Site via the Penn Street entrance and the North Access Road. Oil and gas would be transported by truck during the Drilling and Testing Phase and by pipeline during the normal Operations and Maintenance Phase.
During the testing phase and the construction phase, the oil company proposes to transport crude oil in tanker trucks (10,000-gallon capacity) through Catalina Avenue until the North Access Road is completed and then through the North Access Road until the permanent sales oil pipeline is constructed.
During operations, the oil company proposed two methods for transporting the marketable crude oil. One method would be via the Truck Loading Facility inside the Project Site area, where the oil would be loaded onto oil tanker trucks and transported via the North Access Road to a nearby receiving terminal and then transferred into the Crimson California Pipeline System. Oil would be transported by this method during rare periods when the pipeline system is shut down.
The second oil transportation method would transfer the marketable crude oil by pipeline from the Project Site to the existing Crimson Pipeline System via a new 2.8-mile pipeline connection to a tie-in at Leffingwell Road and La Mirada Boulevard. The Crimson Pipeline System would transport the crude to the ConocoPhillips Refinery in Wilmington. This would be the primary transport method, while the tanker truck method would be used during the oil pipeline construction and as a back-up if the pipeline is temporarily shut down.
The proposed Project would involve three distinct development phases. The first phase, the Drilling and Testing Phase, would involve drilling up to three test wells at the Project Site and assessing the quality and quantity of oil and gas produced. Assuming successful testing, the second phase, the Design and Construction Phase, would involve construction of well cellars, installation of gas and oil processing equipment, and gas/crude transportation facilities. The third phase, the Operations and Maintenance Phase, would involve drilling the remaining wells (for a total of up to 60 wells; three test wells drilled during the test phase and the remaining 57 wells drilled during the Operations and Maintenance phase), as well as the operation and maintenance of the gas and oil facilities and the wells, which would include well workovers and occasional well re-drilling.
How can Whittier residents be assured the Whittier hills won’t have oil wells dotting the hills one day in the future?When the project was approved, the City Council agreed that if the project moves forward, a conservation easement will be put into place-enacted, limiting the area where surface oil production activities can occur, and essentially limiting the oil production area to approximately 22.1 acres. The conservation easement is intended to cover the remaining approximate 1,260 acres and will limit activity to the preservation, restoration and enhancement of native species and their habitats. The purpose of the conservation easement is to ensure the hills will be retained in perpetuity in their natural condition and to prevent any use of the property that could impair or interfere with the conservation values of the property.
Won’t the oil project change the visual appearance of the hills with oil pumps dotting the hills?
The project will have a limited visual impact on the hills. Wells are to be clustered in a small portion of the site and the pumps will be located in a vault below ground surface. From most vantage points in the community the facility will not be visible. However portions of the drill rig (during well drilling and maintenance) will be visible, along with storage tanks. Below is a photo simulation of the proposed project site as viewed from the Arroyo Pescadero overlook near Colima Road. No oil wells or pumps would be visible from surrounding properties.
What did the Court of Appeal decide regarding the litigation on this project?
The Court of Appeal decision resulted in several important conclusions for the City:
- The Conditional Use Permit and Final EIR are valid;
- Reversed the Superior Court’s ruling that invalidated the settlement agreement between the City and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) – which was the basis for PAPA receiving a settlement. Thus the judgment in favor of PAPA has been eliminated;
- The lease with Matrix Oil remains invalid which means that a new lease would need to be approved;
- Allows Whittier to use potential oil proceeds “for the acquisition, development, improvement, rehabilitation or restoration of real property for parks and park safety, senior recreation facilities, beaches, recreation, wildlife habitat or natural lands”.
When will this project commence construction?There is no timetable for commencing construction on this project. No construction work on the project may commence until the City Council decides whether to enter into a new mineral lease agreement with an oil company.
If the City Council considers a new lease agreement it will occur in open session before the Council. The Council may occasionally meet in closed session pursuant to State law to receive updates from their legal counsel regarding current or potential litigation and real property negotiations. Regardless, any consideration of potential revisions to the Conditional Use Permit or consideration of a new mineral lease are required to occur in open session and members of the public will have opportunity to address the Council.
The City has processed an Environmental Impact Report, in conjunction with the amended conditional use permit application.
To find out more about the Mineral Extraction Project in the Whittier Hills, please click on the following documents.
January 31, 2013 Approval of Test Site Vegetation Clearance
The City has authorized Matrix Oil to proceed with the clearing of site vegetation along access roads and the 1.99 – acre test drill site on January 30, 2013. This approval was granted upon Matrix complying with the 79 requirements laid out as part of the City’s approval of the project’s Conditional Use Permit (CUP) and Environmental Impact Report (EIR). This approval authorizes Matrix to only remove vegetation – it does not permit site grading nor drilling activity at this point. Further, all clearance work is being monitored by biologists retained on behalf of the City to assure compliance with EIR mitigation measures. It is anticipated that clearance work will be completed within a week.
- View the City's letter approving the site clearing and the list of the requirements laid out as part of the project's CUP and EIR.
Agenda Reports and Documents
- 2015-04-20 - Agenda Report - Mineral Extraction Permit Administration Subcommittee
- 2014-07-08 - Agenda Report - Mineral Extraction Permit Administration Subcommittee
- 2014-05-13 - Agenda Report - Directorship and Subcommittee Appointments
- 2014-04-22 - Agenda Report - Directorship and Subcommittee Appointments
- 2014-04-15 - Agenda Report - Directorship and Subcommittee Appointments
- 2013-10-22 - Agenda Report - Mineral Extraction Financial Plan Subcommittee
- 2013-10-22 - Agenda Report - Council MEFP Subcommittee extension
- 2013-08-15 - MRCA City Settlement Press Release
- 2013-08-15 - Agreement - City, MRCA, SMMC, Matrix Oil and Clayton Williams
- 2013-08-15 - Agreement - City, MRCA, Matrix Oil and Clayton Williams
- 2013-06-25 - Agenda Report - Council Sub-Committee Appointments
- 2013-06-04 – PowerPoint – Draft Oil Trust Document
- 2013-06-04 – Agenda Report – Study Session to Review Draft Oil Revenue Trust Document
- 2013-05-14 - Agenda Report - Review of Draft Oil Revenue Trust Document
- 2013-05-13 - Phase 1 Grading Approval Letter
- 2013-04-23 - Agenda Report - Directorships and Subcommittees
- 2013-03-26 - Mineral ExtractionTrust Presentation
- 2013-03-26 - Agenda Report - Mineral Extraction Financial Plan Subcommittee Report
- 2013-03-12 - Agenda Report - Mineral Extraction Financial Plan Subcommittee Report
- 2012-12-11 - Agenda Report - Legal Services Agreement with Rutan & Tucker for Mineral Extraction Endowment