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Cat Canyon oil field proposal denounced by opponents in rally before public hearing

Posted at 11:18 PM, Jun 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-06 02:18:28-04

Opponents of a proposal that would help redevelopment of the Cat Canyon oil field southeast of Santa Maria rallied before a public hearing on the subject Wednesday.

Outside the Santa Maria Veterans Hall, more than a dozen attended, holding signs, urging state and federal agencies to deny an exemption for an aquifer in the area.

“We’re asking today to not allow the exemption,” Abraham Melendrez said, CAUSE community organizer and policy advocate. “To allow the federal law to stand and to not allow drilling and injection of toxic waste into our aquifers.”

Though the aquifer in question may not be suitable for drinking or agricultural use. An aquifer can be exempted if science shows the aquifer is naturally an oil deposit.

An example in the proposal of the system used. (Cal Conservation)

The Department of Conservation is tasked with scientifically finding if that is the case.

“We’re taking a look at those constituents, boron, arsenic, oil, all of these naturally occurring substances,” Bill Bartling said, chief deputy of Operations at the Department of Conservation. “If this aquifer contains all of those, then it qualifies to be exempted from the Clean Water Act.”

Inside the public hearing, both opponents and proponents provided two minute testimony after the presentation.

Scores of people both for and against the proposal attended the public hearing. (KSBY News Photo)

According to California EPA groundwater monitoring section chief John Borkovich, much of the area in the Cat Canyon oil field is already exempted by the EPA. Santa Maria does not currently use any of that water, Borkovich said.

“There is a significant barrier between the zone that’s being proposed for the exemption today and where people’s water is being pulled from,” he said.

Opponents still don’t believe the project is worth the risk it might have one day, pointing to the oil fields in Orcutt being blamed for contaminating drinking water wells.

“The drilling in Cat Canyon, especially this kind of drilling, we just think the juice isn’t worth the squeeze,” Jonathan Ullman said, director of the Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Three entities are reviewing the science of the proposal, though the EPA has the authority to make the final determination about the exemption. There is no timeline for when the proposal decision will be made.

Public comment is being accepted until June 20.

A frequently asked questions page from the California Department of Conservation can be found here.