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Oil and water don’t mix during public hearing on Price Canyon oi - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Oil and water don’t mix during public hearing on Price Canyon oil field expansion

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About a hundred people attended a public hearing in San Luis Obispo to voice their opinion and learn more about a proposed oil production expansion and if it could impact drinking water in Price Canyon.

Freeport-McMoRan submitted a proposal in October 2014 to expand its operations in the Arroyo Grande oil field, which is located between San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach and has been operating for about a century.

The Phoenix-based company wants to build 450 oil wells – 350 new and 100 replacements – and double its allowable production limit from 5,000 barrels per day to 10,000. However, when oil is pumped, water comes up too; thus, creating an issue of what to do with additional wastewater that would come with expanding.

Currently Freeport-McMoRan injects almost half a million gallons of waste water into ground daily and purifies another 750,000 gallons and releases it into Pismo Creek, according to a report the company submitted to the California Department of Conservation.

The proposal includes an application to expand an aquifer exemption, asking the Environmental Protection Agency to expand the area it can inject wastewater into. Though the company contends the water in the aquifer has never and will never be a source of drinking water, people who live near the oil field are concerned the wastewater may contaminate their drinking water.

“We’re concerned the pollution is going to migrate to neighboring wells. The exemption application hasn't fully analyzed the ground water flow. It hasn't analyzed potential for earthquakes,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

California’s oil and gas supervisor Steve Bohlen says it’s safe to inject wastewater into the aquifer because of the shape of the rocks beneath.

“The geology of this particular area is very much like a bowl and it’s surrounded by rocks on all sides so the fluids that are inside the bowl don't migrate out,” said Bohlen, with the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).

DOGGR is currently reviewing all injection wells in California to make sure they are in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. Organizations such as the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) say they support this: "Reviewing and modifying the state’s exempt wells is yet another necessary advancement in the process of refining the program’s science and regulatory framework to protect the environment and allow essential energy production,” WSPA president Catherine Reheis-Boyd said.

Skeptics, however, want more research done before the County allows more injection in Price Canyon. They rallied in front of the Courtyard Marriott in San Luis Obispo before the hearing and held up signs saying “Don’t poison our water.”

Environmental groups don’t want to risk contaminating water sources during California’s unprecedented drought, according to 350.org’s Heidi Harmon.

Neighbors also say they also do not want more oil trucks carrying crude from Price Canyon through Pismo Beach to a pump station in Santa Maria. Currently, seven trucks transport oil during off-peak hours. If the expansion goes through, up to 64 trucks will transport oil daily.

Workers on site at Freeport-McMoRan showed KSBY News a new pipeline being built to a Philips 66 transmission line so the company will no longer need to use trucks. They preferred not to give their names, but say the pipeline is expected to be completed in December.

Representatives from Freeport-McMoRan did not return calls.

Public comments on this project must be submitted to DOGGR  no later than 8:00 P.M., on September 21, 2015.

Email:  comments@conservation.ca.gov
FAX:  (916) 324-0948

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