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Supporters, opponents show up in force as county discusses Cat Canyon oil drilling proposal

A proposed oil drilling project that some are concerned would contaminate the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin is sparking conversation across Santa Barbara County.

Oil and gas company ERG Resources currently operates nearly 200 oil wells at the West Cat Canyon Oil Field. They are hoping to quadruple their oil production by adding new wells.

The County Planning Commission discussed the issue at a meeting on Wednesday.

The project would include:

  • 187 new cyclic steam injection wells
  • Four replacement steam generators
  • The use of a new 3.5-mile oil pipeline (pre-approved by the county, but construction is delayed)
  • Misc. facility upgrades
  • 8,000 barrels of oil a day

Nearly 40 local organizations oppose the project.

“We can’t drink oil. We rely on water,” said Hazel Davalos, CAUSE Organizing Director.

Those in favor showed up in numbers, too.

One man says he’s for the project after touring the site earlier this year.

“I was impressed how clean it was, it didn’t smell, how all the pipes were wrapped in this foam material so there were no leaks,” said Charles Gonzales, a Los Alamos resident in favor of the project.

A project four years in the making, ERG’s CEO says the plan has been reduced by 20 percent from what was originally proposed.

“It eliminates any of the new pads that were proposed and all the work will be done on existing pads. It also reduces the oak tree take,” said Alan White, ERG Resources CEO. “It’s something that we think is good.”

ERG’s proposal is not a new site but an upgrade at their current facility that produces about 2,000 barrels of oil a day.

“We are investing millions and millions of dollars into the future, which will create local jobs and a great tax base for the County of Santa Barbara,” White said.

The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) found this alternative plan to be environmentally superior to others but it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of contamination.

“There is actually a significant amount of biodiversity that would be irreversible loss for the county,” said Alicia Roessler, Environmental Defense Center staff attorney.

“I am a resident here and so are all of the ERG employees here, so we care very much about protecting the groundwater here,” said Nathan Eady, SCS Engineers and project manager.

Groundwater contamination, oil spills, greenhouse gas emissions, and noise are some of the top impacts outlined in the EIR.

However, some say the county’s report is inadequate.

“The EIR does not disclose adequately the soil contamination,” said Brian Trautwein, an environmental analyst with the Environmental Defense Center.

“We think with the engineering controls we have, the project would go forward with minimal impact,” White said.

According to the staff report, the project life would be roughly 40 years.

This is one of three individual projects before the Planning Commission and Wednesday’s hearing was the first of many.

The Planning Commission motioned to continue discussion and staff questions on this item until March 27.

Commission members will ultimately have the final say on this project but a decision can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

According to the County Petroleum Office, 24 spill incidents (a total of 920 barrels of oil) have occurred at ERG’s Cat Canyon Facilities between April 2010 and October 2018.

Megan Healy

Megan Healy

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