State finds dozens of violations at Banning Ranch oil field

State finds dozens of violations at Banning Ranch oil field
Old oil field equipment stands idle at Newport Banning Ranch in Orange County. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

State oil and gas regulators have found dozens of violations at the Newport Banning Ranch oil field that developers want to turn into a large hotel and housing complex.

Notices issued by California's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources on Feb. 28 list nearly a dozen pages of violations, including wellhead and pipeline leaks, small chemical spills and discarded equipment.


The state directed the field operators, West Newport Oil Co. and Armstrong Petroleum Corp., to correct the problems by March 31 or face enforcement actions.

The documents include photographs taken last year by oil and gas division inspectors who found piles of rusting, abandoned equipment and debris scattered across the 401-acre site, one of the largest privately owned, undeveloped parcels on the Southern California coast.

The proposal to build a resort and 895 homes on the Orange County property has fueled an ongoing development fight.

The California Coastal Commission rejected the project last year after commission scientists concluded that the land, though disturbed by decades of oil production, was home to ecosystems and wildlife that have all but vanished from the region's coastline.

The developers, who are challenging the denial in Orange County Superior Court, frequently cited the field's messy conditions during their commission appearances.

As part of the project, they argued, they would clean up the fenced-off tract and set aside much of it as a nature preserve open to the public.

Opponents pointed out that one of the development partners, Aera Energy, has long held a 50% interest in Banning Ranch and could have cleaned it up long ago, even though it has never been involved in oil operations at the site.

Aera is not named in the new violation notices. But as a landowner it has been named, along with Armstrong and West Newport Oil, in previous federal and state orders involving the destruction of wetlands and wildlife habitats.

Representatives of West Newport Oil and Armstrong could not be reached for comment on the new violation notices, which were made public Thursday.

According to the state documents, inspectors who visited Banning Ranch in September and October found "fluids bubbling" in the "cellar" of a well that also had a casing that was moving "from side to side."

Inspectors noted numerous wellhead leaks, dilapidated fencing, debris, inadequate covers on well cellars and a dozen tanks that had not been properly taken out of service.

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