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Planning commissioners raise questions about Cat Canyon oil drilling proposal

Posted at 6:56 PM, Mar 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-28 00:12:57-04

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission is one step closer to a decision on whether to approve ERG’s oil drilling and production plan.

It would include developing and operating more than 200 new oil production wells in the Cat Canyon area.

At recent planning commission meetings, dozens of people have shown up both in support and opposition to the project. Supporters say it will increase jobs in the area, while opponents express concern for the environment.

Emotions were still high but the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission meeting Wednesday was much quieter than their meeting two weeks ago.

There were no protesters outside, no lines out the door for public comment. Instead, the meeting mostly consisted of lengthy discussion by the commissioners themselves over the Environmental Impact Report that some argue is inadequate.

“If we have that information, then it’s easier to make the most correct decision. If we don’t have the information at all, we’re sort of wandering around in the dark so to speak and this is too important a decision, too important to our public to not make intelligent decisions,” said John Parke, Planning Commission Chairman.

Some questions from the commissioners included mitigations for groundwater contamination, geological concerns including the chances of causing earthquakes, and greenhouse gas emissions.

“For our purposes here tell me how much (GHG) they’re producing in their extraction activities as opposed to someone else in some other country. That to me is what would drive my decision,” said planning commissioner Daniel Blough.

Questions were also raised about the trucking of hazardous materials through the county. Commissioner John Parke suggested that with a total of three proposed oil projects in the works, trucks would exceed 12 million miles per year.

“It just seems to me to be a very important piece to know how this tanker traffic will affect all the things that happen all along the way,” Parke said.

Representatives from ERG listened to the concerns raised and remain hopeful their project will move forward.

“The commission had a lot of great questions for staff and public comment had good questions so I think with that list of questions answered, we’re looking forward to the outcome,” said ERG CEO Alan White.

The commissioners directed staff to look into several questions that include: whether or not ERG will drill out wells that haven’t been drilled, alternatives to using electricity to power steam generators, an update on carbon intensity figures, GHG mitigation measures by ERG, what happens when Highway 166 is closed and trucks still need to transport hazardous materials, answers on whether or not ERG has been paying property taxes, and what happens in the event of a fire on the property.

The proposal will be back in front of commissioners on May 29.

While the planning commission does all the voting on this issue, it can be repealed by the county board of supervisors.