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Los Cerritos Wetlands (LCW) Project Approved by Coastal Commission

As we have shared in our announcements, the first major restoration at Los Cerritos Wetlands was recently approved by the Coastal Commission on December 13th, 2018, the BOMP Oil Consolidation/Wetlands Restoration Project, which Audubon supports.  This project is often characterized by the media as controversial because some environmentalists oppose.  Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority, Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, Bolsa Chica Land Trust and many others support the project.  Much like Bolsa Chica, the Los Cerritos Wetlands vision has always been to return the land, highly impacted by the oil industry, to wetlands.  Unfortunately we don’t have control over what they do with oil operations removed from the wetlands, and the restoration supporters have never included “end all oil extraction” in their wetlands restoration advocacy as it is known “end oil” has a very long road ahead.  The value of coastal wetlands and the extent of the loss of California coastal wetlands is of great concern–the more we can restore sooner rather than later, the better. 

As we’ve promised, listed below are additional details, pictures and information about the first approved and funded restoration project at Los Cerritos Wetlands.  First, some ask “what is this project”? 

In brief review, the “BOMP” Oil Consolidation/Wetlands Restoration Project is:

  • Pertains to the privately owned portion of LCW owned by Synergy Oil (north of 2nd St., west of Studebaker Rd.), most importantly this portion of LCW contains the only original part of these wetlands left, aka “Steamshovel Slough” on the north side of the Synergy Oil Property.
  • The South Section of the Synergy Oil property is separated from the slough by a berm and paralleled by muted and degraded wetlands with an active oil field on these muted, filled and drilled wetlands.  The entire acreage of the Synergy Oil owned property (all historically Los Cerritos Wetlands) is approximately 154 acres. 
  • The oil company will move oil operations built to 1960’s standards off this large mostly degraded wetlands acreage and consolidate oil operations on two properties of about 5 acres each–154 acres of oil operations on wetlands, consolidated down to just over 10 or 11 acres on two adjacent industrial use and landfill sites.
  • The two approximate 5 acre oil consolidation sites (where the “new” replacement wells will go) are the “pumpkin patch” (a landfill site used for pumpkin and Christmas tree sales) and 5 acres at the corner of 2nd/Westminster & Studebaker used to store road construction supplies surrounded by a tank farm by the power plant. 
  • Included in the project is the section of oil fields adjacent to the freshwater “Marketplace Marsh” (south of 2nd Street, east of Shopkeeper Rd).  The oil operations will also be removed there opening the door for restoration in a later phase. 
  • Today eight (8) rigid pipelines crisscross the Synergy oil fields and an earthquake fault, these existing pipelines and wells have no modern failure safety measures.  This will be replaced by one pipeline crossing the fault built to withstand big quakes, with spill containment measures, and the entire new consolidated oil operations will have all the modern safety and spill containment features.  The consolidated wells will be outside the fault zone.  
  • The existing historic Bixby building used as Synergy Oil office will be moved off the fault line and converted to a wetlands visitor center.  Public access will also include a perimeter trail around the wetlands.
  • A new Synergy office building will be constructed at the Pumpkin Patch site after removal of the old landfill, and will be landscaped with native plants and designed with bird safe glass. 
  • The restoration will be phased, with Phase I just approved by the Coastal Commission this December for the 30 acres of muted/degraded wetlands parallel to the pristine “Steamshovel Slough”, which will happen in less than 5 to 10 years.  All oil operations will be consolidated off the entire 154 acres in 10 to 20 years or even less, at which time the Phase II restoration will begin as a separate plan. 
  • It is important to note this oil consolidation/wetlands restoration project is not funded by tax payer money and is separate from Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority’s plan, although the LCWA is very involved and the restored wetlands will be transferred to the LCWA.   “BOMP” or “BOM” was formed to head the oil consolidation/restoration project (Beach Oil Mineral Partners) and hopes to sell mitigation bank credits later to recoup money they spent on the restoration. 

Benefits:

A major benefit, the only natural intact piece of Los Cerritos Wetlands in existence today will be in public hands and permanently protected and managed—the 44 acre salt marsh known locally as “Steamshovel Slough”.  With the addition of another adjacent 30 acres of restored wetlands, the size of the salt marsh will be nearly doubled.  Upland habitat around the marsh, primarily taken over by invasive weeds, will be restored with plants native to the area.  Contaminated soils will be remediated, oil operations removed from 154 acres clearing the way for a second phase of restoration.  For later phases “adaptive restoration” has been mentioned briefly, which in general means restoring at higher elevations for sea level rise and allowing marsh to gradually migrate.  Along with all the habitat benefits the project includes passive public access and an educational interpretive/visitor center.  

Background:

El Dorado Audubon, Audubon California and our sister chapters have followed and participated in the restoration process of Los Cerritos Wetlands for decades, including the BOMP consolidation/restoration project.  We have reviewed EIRs, plans, we hired an attorney and our own biologist to review and advise us on the project. 

Some people are opposed to the project based on removing the oil consolidation component out of the plan completely, hence to stop all oil drilling, which legally speaking cannot be done any time in the foreseeable future.  Important to note our attorney reviewed the plan and found nothing legally wrong or illegal with the proposed consolidation/restoration plan, advised Audubon to meet with the BOMP project team regarding the restoration itself and work out our concerns.  Which we did.  El Dorado Audubon chose not to spend our limited member donations fighting an “end oil cause”–against a wetlands restoration. 

Our mission is “conservation of native birds and their habitats”, which habitat restoration is a key function in conserving native birds.  More importantly we were very concerned with the “no project” alternative.  The existing oil field is already prone to some tidal exchange as it exists today despite the fact an earthen berm exists; current oil operations are right on the edge of muted wetlands with pipe lines literally running across the wetlands.  The “no project” alternative would result in these outdated, wetlands residing oil operations continuing indefinitely as is.  Should the sea level rise predictions come to pass, this means the existing oil field with no modern safety measures would experience severe flooding impacting the adjacent “Steamshovel Slough” and Alamitos Bay.  Therefore, in this case Audubon felt the project, closely reviewed and “conditioned”, was the best choice. 

Through the process of this oil consolidation/restoration project our involvement resulted in some of the special conditions imposed on the project by permitting agencies, and we also supported other special conditions during the permitting process at City of Long Beach and California Coastal Commission.  You can read the Coastal Commission report and what was approved, including 25 special conditions, click here

It is important to note by definition we are more a conservationist organization rather than an environmentalist organization, as our mission statement indicates, although these two terms are often used interchangeably these days.  We look for practical, balanced solutions to problems, based on a variety of expert advice, research and more.  Audubon is a science-based conservation organization.  We respect and work with project proponents, government agencies, public offices and public officials, often privately and effectively in regards to our mission.  We didn’t arrive at our support for the BOMP oil consolidation/restoration project easily, much thought and review was put into this.

To address the often sensational media statements regarding this consolidation/restoration project, which are often a bit confusing and perhaps misleading such as “more drilling expected”, “sea level rise will turn restoration into mud flats”, “greenhouse gas increase”, “millions of barrels will be extracted compared to 300 barrels now”, etc. below are a few verified facts:

  • Existing operations = 33 active wells, 74 wells total including those idle (which could be put back into service)
  • “New” replacement wells = includes both oil wells and water re-injection wells (oil mixed with water is extracted, oil is separated and water is cleaned and put back in the ground preventing ground subsidence).  No fracking is allowed.  No water re-injection wells exist in the existing oil operations, therefore no ground subsidence measures are being taken in the current oil operations. 
  • The 33 wells active in the existing operations are currently producing 300 barrels a day
  • All 74 existing wells (currently on the wetlands), if running, could produce up 10,000 barrels a day; however, the project approval includes a maximum 2,500 barrel a day cap for the existing oil field which BOMP self-imposed to show good faith that they are in fact serious about getting oil operations off the wetlands.  Therefore you may see the media stating 10,000 barrels a day while the Coastal report states 2,500 barrels a day. 
  • The oil operator chooses not to maintain and run all 74 wells as moving off the wetlands to more modern consolidated operations is more cost effective/efficient. 
  • The “new” consolidation wells could produce 24,000 barrels a day (not millions).  And yes more modern technology can extract faster. 
  • The greenhouse gas (GHG) emission increases estimated for the consolidation project component are based on the 300 barrels a day, not the full capacity of all existing 74 wells running which the operator would and could legally run all 74 wells if the consolidation had not been approved.  Also the carbon sink abilities of a wetlands restoration were not factored into the GHG emissions calculations, making the estimated GHG emission for the consolidation project on the high side.  The Coastal Commission addressed the GHG with a number of special conditions to offset increases. 

Conclusion:

If you follow National Audubon and Audubon California you may notice many birds and their habitats are at risk for a variety of reasons, including those that use Los Cerritos Wetlands during their migrations and those that reside year around.  Salt marshes and mudflats are very critical foraging grounds to these birds.  Locally development is closing in, not good for either our resident or migrant birds, they need good quality replacement habitat for foraging and nesting.  We felt to wait 50 years or more to restore the wetlands (in hopes oil extraction would someday be illegal) would be detrimental to this Audubon Important Bird Area.   Had the “new” relocated consolidation wells actually been proposed on a habitat and not on industrial use sites we would have a very different position of course.  Or, if oil operations and pipelines did not already exist all over Los Cerritos Wetlands then we would have a different position about this oil consolidation project component.  However the fact is, oil is already there and the areas adjacent to the wetlands for oil well relocation are industrial sites.  As a side note, in the case of Los Cerritos Wetlands, there would be nothing left of the wetlands to restore had the area not been exploited for oil, otherwise it would have no doubt already been developed into housing or shopping centers. 

We hope this helps explain and clarify what is behind all the project “controversy” chatter online and in the media.  Hopefully those who oppose the project can eventually understand and accept that Audubon is entitled to our point of view and position on this matter, as they are entitled to theirs as well, which we don’t hold against them or criticize them for having a different view. 

As the project moves forward, wetlands restoration and oil consolidation activities will be heavily monitored and reviewed by many government agencies on an ongoing basis, which is standard protocol for such projects. 

Included below are pictures of the original/intact Los Cerritos Wetlands Marsh (aka “Steamshovel Slough”) which will now be in public hands along with pictures of the adjacent oil field to be relocated/consolidated onto two 5 acre industrial use properties, recent pictures of those two 5 acre properties to become the consolidated oil operations, the Phase I restoration area adjacent to Steamshovel Slough, the Synergy Oil Field to be removed and consolidated off the wetlands (clearing the land for a Phase II restoration) and degraded/muted wetlands, the berm between Steamshovel Slough and the Synergy Oil Field intended to keep sea water out of the oil field, a December 2018 high tide showing sea water nearly breaching the existing berm from the wetlands into the oil field and the weedy uplands area along Studebaker Rd. to become a public access trail with upland native plants.  Please also see our Conservation Page for additional photos and information.

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