Santa Maria Energy officials must wait at least another week before they can move forward with a proposed oil pipeline project, following the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission vote Wednesday to continue a decision for final approval.
How to best mitigate potential effects on the environment caused the five-member commission to vote 4-0 to continue a decision until next Wednesday’s meeting.
Commissioner Daniel Blough abstained from the vote because “I’m actually prepared to move the project forward today,” he said.
The delay tacks an additional week of planning review and consideration of public comment onto the 3½ years that Santa Maria Energy has already been waiting for a go-ahead.
In 2009, the North County oil company began a lengthy approval process to install 136 production oil wells, connecting pipelines and other oil equipment in its Orcutt location. A related project includes installing an eight-mile underground, recycled water pipeline to the Laguna County Sanitation District.
The privately held oil company, founded in 2002, extracts oil from 75 wells drilled into Monterey Shale and 26 wells drilled into a diatomite layer in Santa Barbara County on 4,000 leased acres at the Orcutt Field. The company uses cyclic steam injection to extract oil because the steam heats the oil in a well to a temperature that produces flow.
Planning commission staff on Wednesday spent three hours presenting information in the hope that commissioners would certify the environmental impact report and approve a comprehensive plan for an easement and a fee ownership for certain portions of privately owned properties for placement of the recycled water pipeline.
Planning staff, along with Santa Maria Energy and Laguna district staff, explained that the economic and environmental benefits of the project — including creating high-paying jobs and jump-starting local commerce — far outweighed any potential drawbacks. Pipeline monitoring systems were also discussed.
Possible impacts identified in the environmental report included oil spills, seeps and greenhouse gas emissions.
Most of the 24 public speakers during the hearing were in favor of the project, many noting that they’ve taken a tour of the facility because of Santa Maria Energy’s transparent outreach to the community.
Santa Maria residents joined Santa Barbara stakeholders in the County Engineering Building via web camera.
Six speakers, including representatives from local environmental groups, said they were not against the project so much as wary of commissioners setting a precedent of not monitoring a proper emissions threshold by establishing standards on a case-by-case basis.
“Don’t rush to judgment,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center. “It is feasible to mitigate these impacts.”
Although members of the planning commission called Santa Maria Energy a “model candidate,” most wanted an additional week to vet environment impacts.
“All my questions haven’t been answered,” Commissioner Cecilia Brown said.
The planning commission is scheduled to consider the item again at 9 a.m. next Wednesdayin the County Engineering Building.