Nelson: Black Gold or Wild Open Space

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On Friday in Ventura the Coastal Commission will hear another plea for development and profit above all other values on Banning Ranch.

The commission took the surprising step a few months ago in denying corporate plans to fill much of Banning’s mesa with a supposedly green village.

This time, the appeal is for the black gold beneath the land.

The company called Horizontal Development, LLC has mined the oil for decades while selling the land rights to a consortium called NBR for condos, yet still isn’t satisfied with its profit.

Back in 1976 when the Coastal Act came into force, the oil production goal was set 42 million barrels, set to be wrapped up sometime around 1994.

Now it’s a different story.

The oil company is ignoring what it has already derived and is suing the coastal agency over how many wells were intended in the 70s and seeking new facilities to keep the party going indefinitely.

This wouldn’t be so sad if Banning wasn’t the last chance along the coast to create banning-oil-ed-4something we can’t make more of in crowded So Cal – wild open space. On over 400 acres of a place so perfectly suited to serve both human and other species as a nature preserve, this goal should transcend other priorities. A couple hundred barrels of oil per day is surely not an overriding concern compared with such a rarity as wild land and bluffs near the ocean and millions of hemmed-in people.

banning-oil-ed-3Preservation is achievable as long as state agencies and leaders stay focused on the opportunity and the little non-profits involved manage to cooperate rather than compete. One surprise through this long process is how well public support has held up. In fact, it seems to be getting stronger.

The main obstacle has been the level of cynical manipulation by the owners of the land. The claim is that Banning is a wasteland and that only they can clean up the mess they made. This is PR garbage. There is no way the number and variety of living things out there now could exist if the place portrayed in photos as a rusty metal graveyard was accurate.

banning-oil-ed-2

The temptation will be to break this area up into convenient little pieces, fence the native living things in, sign young human wanderers out and use the rest for business-as-usual. The oil company and development interests call this compromise. Splitting the leftover crumbs is a more apt description.

So, to keep the brightest and wildest future for this land open to possibility, the permit for more drilling needs to be denied.

Kevin Nelson, Founder, Nature Commission (more details on Banning Ranch issue)

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