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County Supervisors Intent on Tightening Regulations for Onshore Oil Facilities

The board signals support, but action is postponed until at least February to give staff time to make changes for a final reading of the ordinance

Tighter regulations for onshore oil facilities that are deemed high-risk operations could be on the way, after being considered Tuesday by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

Though the item was continued until February so staff could make changes for the final reading, officials signaled wanting a tighter regulatory grip on offenders.

In 2007, a number of onshore oil spills occurred in the county, prompting public scrutiny and concern. As a result, county supervisors increased inspection and permitting fees, developed a high-risk operation ordinance and created a centralized database for the incidents.

Spills are still a problem, however, a fact that revealed chagrin among the supervisors.

Supervisor Janet Wolf expressed frustration that some departments, such as County Counsel, were left out of the loop when the spills occurred.

“This does not appear to be rocket science,” she said. “This problem has been going on for way too long.”

The current ordinance defines a facility as “high risk” if it has been in violation for more than 30 consecutive days or 45 days during the past year. It can also be considered high risk if it has had three unauthorized releases of at least 25 barrels in a 12-month period.

But county staff is recommending that supervisors amend the timing and spill volume thresholds. A petroleum administrator would have a maximum of 30 days to correct the situation.

The board also expressed concern about the volume of spills. Federal regulations put the spill threshold at a minimum of 25 barrels, but the recommended changes would deem a facility high-risk if it released at least two times, with more than 15 barrels each during the prior 12 months.

Supervisor Salud Carbajal said he thought most of the changes were improvements, but he asked whether there could be a cumulative amount as well, so that spills smaller than the threshold still would be taken into account. That suggestion will be included in February’s reading of the ordinance.

Another issue that came up Tuesday was the data collection of the incidents. Though the data are still being imported, during the last budget cycle, money to update the collection software was reallocated, so the data aren’t easily accessible by the public.

Newly sworn in Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said enforcing stricter regulations than the federal government requires could place an undue burden on the industry.

Public commenter Andy Caldwell agreed, noting that oil is a naturally occurring substance.

“We treat it as if it’s Kryptonite,” he said. “What you’re trying to regulate on land is dwarfed to what is happening naturally offshore.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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