Birch Hills Golf Course, A Toxic Blunder.

Title to the Birch Hills Golf course, owned by Union Oil/Chevron since it was built in 1972, was to be transferred to the City of Brea in exchange for being released from the obligation of paying a Parks in Lieu Fee. Who knew what a total nightmare this seemingly simple matter would become?

The pissing contest between Chevron and the City of Brea has consumed over three years in closed sessions, allowed the once popular course to be dramatically reduced in size and to fall into a horrible state of disrepair and finally, last Tuesday, it showed up on Council’s agenda as Consent Item 21.

Consent Item! Bull Sugar!

Consent Calendars are reserved for routine, non-controversial, housekeeping items, or matters the Council has achieved consensus on after previous discussion. Generally, topics that have not been previously discussed by Council should not be put on the consent agenda.

Since the early ‘90’s Staff and Council have been burying critical items on the Consent Calendar to avoid conflicting public opinion. It’s a practice I’ve been fighting for years.

The moment agendas are posted late Friday afternoon, I immediately check the Consent Calendar to see what is getting swept under the rug at the next meeting. I find dubious items virtually every time, the Birch Hills matter is a prime example.

Why Pull The Item For Discussion? 

Three years in the making and this multi-million dollar city asset was being acquired like a thief in the night, with no provision for discussion. Again, bull sugar.

Well over a hundred pages of complicated legal documents, with 14 attachments, were handed off to Council Friday evening and they… we all… had 97 hours to digest and research or corroborate it all.

Thankfully there were several folks willing to attempt the task.

What they found was a grossly incomplete set of documents that saddled Brea, forever, with a toxic, barely profitable piece of property with virtually no means of turning it around without spending a fortune.

How toxic? How costly to mitigate? What options for repurposing some or all of the land to a more safe and profitable use? Nothing in the documents offered even a hint at answers.

Birch Hills Toxicity Is Serious Issue.

Chevron’s field assistant to the project manager on the La Floresta and the senior boots on the ground as the biohazards on the golf course and Rails-to-Trails segment were mitigated, John Bickel, pleaded with Council at their study session to pull the item from the Consent Calendar and table it until they had a better idea of what they were really accepting.

John provided a detailed account of burying countless yards of contaminated soil under the parking lot and the additional mitigation required to bring the property up to residential standards.

John concluded his remarks with the admonition that we just don’t know enough… there are still too many unknowns. There’s a lot more explaining to do before we saddle ourselves with this monster.

Addendum – John Bickel: I think it’s important to add some clarity on exactly what is buried there, why there is more remediation to do.We (Chevron) cleaned up to meet golf course spec not residential. There really is no danger in playing golf, the lake is not contaminated. The soil beneath MAY be, no one knows for sure, it has liner underneath it is why it wasn’t sampled. The unknowns and talk of toxics could damage the income of the course.

Erin Brockovich ring a bell?

Let me add that converting this land to residential use has been a part of the General Plan since 2003. It’s on the city website. The map on page 40 shows this property as low density residential.

The city planners knew it. Unocal/Chevron knew it. Yet the documents to effect the transfer of title provide little or no clear answers how the city might proceed in that direction in the future.

Another Voice Of Reason.

During Matters From The Audience, Dwight Manley chastised Council for putting such an important matter on Consent Calendar and to table the item until the many blanks could be filled in. Clearly Council could not proceed with any certainty based upon the information available.

Here are Dwight’s comments to Council. Please listen carefully. Would you have proceeded blindly to conclude this transaction knowing how little you really knew?

Vargas Exits, Council Dives In.

Forced by legal counsel to recuse himself, Council member Vargas left the meeting. Having voiced his serious concerns since early in the weekend about the Birch Hills issues, Mr. Vargas appeared to be the only real voice of reason.

Many people, believing that Council had clearly heard the public’s position on the matter, left the meeting as well. Thinking it was tabled… they were in for the shock of their lives.

A Comedy Of Errors.

I was watching from home and hung in there. The thirty minutes of bungling and incompetence that followed was gut-wrenching.

In response to half-baked questions from an obviously uninformed Council, staff pulled off an exhibition of world class sugarcoating, deflection, outright misinformation including the “$80 a cubic yard” lie.

If you have the stomach for it, you can watch the streaming video on the city website.

I texted Dwight, warning him that it appeared Council was being drug down a path towards approving the transfer of the Birch Hills Golf Course and direct the Mayor to execute all documents necessary to close escrow.

That’s exactly what they did. They saddled us with a toxic horror and no means to dealing with it lest we spend millions upon millions of dollars ($300 million?) and beg, with fingers crossed, that Chevron and the EPA would approve our request to clean up and repurpose the property.

Unbelievable! Inconceivable!

Brea resident, Thomas Kwan, turned off his TV and emailed Council after listening to Dwight’s detailed and heartfelt plea. A copy of it reached me on Friday. Here I’ve paraphrased a few excerpts.

The last document of the set of exhibits setting forth the request for approval of the Birch Hills Golf Course Ownership Transfer Documents is the Covenants, Conditions, and Environmental Restrictions…which contains the Soil Mediation Plans for the different parts of the property.

There remains on the southern portion of the property toxic chemicals including among others, PCB’s polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins/furans, relatively stable compounds toxic chemicals that will be there for a long time.

Who in their right mind would want to accept the Draconian responsibilities and liabilities associated with that property and the associated acquisition agreement?

Keep in mind not all of the soil has been tested. There may be areas of contamination that have not been found, have been buried without record or carried by the elements elsewhere to an untested area.

As far as I am concerned the owner (Chevron) should keep Birch Hills, build a sarcophagus over the site and fence it with skull and crossbones signs around the property.

If Brea wants to take over compliance with the EPA and OCHCA restrictions and share the responsibilities and liabilities, then Chevron should fund a multimillion dollar trust for such.

So What’s The Damned Rush?

There are no critical deadlines, threatening penalties or life and death issues here. No real urgency at all. Hell, we’ve screwed around with this for three to four years. Can’t we take a few more weeks… months… to make sure we do this right?

There are legally acceptable ways to delay the final execution of escrow while we connect all the dots. Why wouldn’t Council use every means at their disposal to do this right?

 

True Or False, Council Understands Fracking?

False.

At Tuesday’s study session, Council member Simonoff asked for the Linn Energy presentation to be pulled from the agenda because equal time had not been extended to the resident’s group to put their counterpoint and concerns on the table. Simonoff’s request was dismissed.

Alejandra CrespoDuring Matters from the Audience, Brea resident Alejandra Crespo chastised the Mayor reminding him of his campaign promises and his failure to deliver upon them.

She reminded the Mayor of the promise made by City Manager Tim O’Donnell over a month earlier, to put fracking on the agenda so she and her citizens group could present their position to Council.

She added, “This likely impedes our First Amendment rights… our right to have equal time.” To read Alejandra’s full comments, click here.

anthony_xA dozen other speakers added their personal apprehensions about the increasing fracking in Brea. The only speaker in support of fracking was, Anthony Thomas, Director of Government Affairs for the California Petroleum Industry Association (CIPA).

This is a trade association of crude oil and natural gas producers, royalty members (Brea maybe? We received $350,000 in oil royalties last year), service and supply companies. Who invited Mr. Thomas, an oil lobbyist splitting his time between Los Angeles and Sacramento, and how much credence should we give his remarks?

Setting the stage.

mario_xMario Maldenado, the newly hired assistant to the City Manager, was handed the thankless task of opening the presentation. Charactering the presentation as a “fact finding endeavor” turned out to be a stretch given how few facts were actually shared.

Of the five oil companies operating in Brea (Linn Energy, LLC, Aera Energy, Breitburn Energy PartnersCooper & Brain, and Thompson Energy) all but Linn denied fracking locally. 

jennifer_xJennifer Hefner, also a Brean, well aware of the history of catastrophic accidents and pollution costs associated with energy production, joined many of her neighbors concerned about the effects of increased fracking in Brea and sat through last Tuesday’s presentation to Council by Linn Energy. Here is her firsthand reaction.

“Mayor Murdock, admitting he knew little about fracking, decided to use Tuesday’s meeting (07/15/14) to let Linn Energy representatives offer the oil and gas industry’s spin on the growing debate over health, safety, environmental and possible seismic risks.

I sat watching this disgusting display wondering why the Mayor does not care about the citizens of the community. After all, isn’t he part of this community? Murdock got elected mostly because our children, mine included, received swim lessons under his watch.

brett_xWe’re at another sink or swim moment. Do I dare put my children’s safety in his hands again? Absolutely not.

The Mayor, admittedly ignorant on the subject of fracking, turned his back on those of us who have invested countless hours studying this issue in great detail.

Instead he gave Linn Energy the opportunity to spin the issues in their favor. Linn’s objective was clearly to lull Council and Breans into a false sense of security.

I emailed Murdock and the other Council members three months ago, just after the earthquake, asked them about these issues. Not one even had the courtesy to acknowledge receipt of my email… let alone respond. Murdock has done a great disservice to those he was elected to represent and, quite possibly, infringed on our rights in the process.”

The cast of characters.

trent_xTrent R. Rosenleib, is a petroleum engineer and Assett Manager, Linn Engineering. He has a lengthy background in the Oil and Gas industry. He came to Linn from Berry Petroleum Company via Linn’s acquisition in December of last year and operates from Linn’s Bakersfield office.

Juan Chacon, Linn Engineering petroleum engineer.

dave_xDave Quast, California Director of Energy in Depth, a research and education program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the California Independent Petroleum Association (likely the connection to Anthony Thomas).

Mr. Rosenleib and Mr. Quast share a common objective, to promote, propagandize, defend and protect the oil and gas industry from all who would impede it’s progress. Their presentations were laced with well parsed language designed to dodge direct questions, mask facts in language purposed to confuse the uninitiated and invent new language to hide the real risks of fracking.

One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.

christine_xWhen asked, point blank, about wells being fracked up to twenty times, the response was, “It is only done once.” However he admitted that, routinely, a high pressure injection of large amounts of acidized water are reinjected back into wells to unplug blockages and revive wells back into full production.

They like to call that routine maintenance but it’s fracking… pure and simple. They also admitted that this is usually done every 2 to 3 years for the life of the well.

council_xIf fracking is defined as a single fracture of deep shale, that would put the question to bed.

But when highly toxic fluid is repeatedly injected under high pressure, retrieved and recycled year after year, under the guise of routine maintenance, their answer is false.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck… it’s a duck! Wells can be fracked up to 20 times during their lifespan. Own it!

And this begs the subsequent questions, how is this toxic hazardous waste handled between fracks? How is it moved? Where is it stored?

And, what’s really getting pumped in?

brett-christineAgain, to give us a false sense of comfort, we were shown a few household cleaning products as examples of fracking fluid ingredients.

Truth? Fracking fluid, mostly what they refer to as brackish produced water, is adulterated with variety of chemicals—among them methanol, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, hydrochloric acid, and sodium hydroxide. Yeah, I’ll wager you don’t have any of that stuff hanging around under your sink.

Rosenleib said if you want to know what chemicals are being used, go to the new website FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry. Now we can get the info we want! False. The site is only populated with data for Kern County and there is no indication when Orange County data will be added.

Did the well Stearn 168 spring a leak?

Stearn 168 (API No. 04-059-06923), on Monday, February 10, 2014, experienced a drop in pressure and upon investigation it was reported that there was a hole in the casing. When your blood pressure suddenly drops there is a distinct possibility you’re bleeding out. What really happened at Stearn 168? Was there any contamination? Where can we go to get answers to these questions. DOGGR? False. Try it for yourself.

If your curiosity is peaked, here’s more.

garcia_xHere are five articles that, if you’re serious about understanding this “risk resistant” side of the discussion… click away.

We’re all interesting in seeing the US become energy independent, but at what cost?

Fracking on the fringes of Orange County, with little oversight.

(08/29/13) – California Department of Oil, Gas & Geothermal (DOGGR) spokesman Don Drysdale, told the OC Weekly that while fracking regulations are currently being crafted in California, there is little oversight of the practice.

Fracking waste is contaminating California aquifers.

(07/18/14) – In June 2011, the EPA conducted a review of other aspects of California’s injection well program and found enforcement, testing and oversight problems so significant that the agency demanded California improve its regulations and warned that the state’s authority could be revoked. California has not yet completed its review of its underground injection program, according to state officials.

Pennsylvania appeals court affirms city rights.

(07/17/14) – A Pennsylvania appeals court issued a split decision on the state’‍s oil and gas law, affirming the rights of municipalities to regulate the location of oil and gas development.

One million gallons of fracking brine spill near reservation water supply.

(07/11/14) – Fracking brine is the much toxic unwanted byproduct of the fracking process, the sludge left after the job’s done, and it’s laced with mystery toxins the public is not allowed to know anything about.

Groundwater Contamination Due To Fracking Flowback.

(06/26/14) – Research has shown 10 to 40 percent of the water and chemical solution mixture injected at high pressure into deep rock strata, surges back to the surface during well development.

markman_xThis is a risk v. reward situation and as the article about city rights above suggests, Brea does have options. City Attorney Markman even went so far, in response to a question from Roy Moore, to say that given proof of injury the City could say no to fracking.

To make an intelligent decision, we all need to understand the full extent of the risks produced by fracking. We should not let the oil and gas industry, like big tobacco, like big banking, like big pharma, get away with virtually zero effective oversight and disclosure.