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Local News

Measure J on Carpinteria Ballot a Source of Heated Debate

Arguments for and against Venoco's drilling plan center on the initiative process, safety, revenues

The South Coast is a focal point for the oil drilling debate this election season, and the controversy surrounding Carpinteria’s ballot initiative proposing an onshore drilling rig continues to produce impassioned supporters and opponents.

Venoco Inc.’s Measure J, or the Paredon Oil & Gas Development Initiative, proposes building an onshore drilling rig to access the untapped oil field just off the coast of Carpinteria. The wells would be drilled down and out under the ocean floor using slant-drilling technology, since none of Venoco’s three offshore platforms can reach the Paredon field.

The drilling rig would be located at the company’s onshore processing facility off Dump Road, near Carpinteria City Hall and the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve and seal rookery. Venoco has onshore drilling facilities in Ventura County, Beverly Hills and the Sacramento Basin, as well as platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Arguments for and against the project have centered on the initiative process, safety and revenues to the city and county of Santa Barbara.

The Paredon field lease, which Venoco purchased from Chevron in the late 1990s, along with several oil platforms and its Carpinteria processing facility, has the potential to produce 22 million barrels of oil, according to Venoco community relations manager Lisa Rivas.

South Coast towns have had oil platforms off their coasts for decades, and the country’s first offshore platform was near Summerland. While the recent Gulf of Mexico spill may have raised some awareness to the issue of oil drilling, and politicians have released moratoriums on new leases, Rivas said the moratoriums have no effect on the Paredon project.

However, she said she does expect the entire industry to feel the impact of the disaster.

“After events like this,” Rivas said, “we see impacts to regulations, response and safety practices.”

The quest for project approval through the ballot measure process has been questioned by the opposition because a yes vote would both approve the project and make the necessary amendments to the city’s general and coastal plans, since they don’t currently allow for what the project includes. A no vote wouldn’t stop Venoco from developing the oil field, but it would eliminate the option of drilling from its onshore facility.

“We’re not anti-oil, and we’re not anti-Paredon,” said Donna Jordan, co-chair of Citizens Committee Against Paredon Initiative and a former Carpinteria mayor. “It’s not the drilling that bothers me; it’s the way they’re doing it.”

The initiative calls for amendments and would give the project’s specific plan governing power over the city’s municipal code for the city zoning ordinance, according to the full text of the initiative.

“If you know what’s in there,” Jordan said, “I’m not worried about how you’re going to vote.”

According to the initiative, “to the extent that any provision of the Carpinteria Municipal Code or any rule, regulation or official policy of the city frustrates the purpose or intent of this specific plan, those inconsistent provisions of the Carpinteria Municipal Code or rules, regulations or official policies of the city shall be superseded by this specific plan.”

Jordan calls Venoco’s campaign the perfect metaphor for a company buying its way into a small town, and said she worries about the precedent it would set if Measure J passes.

The pro-Measure J campaign, funded almost entirely by Venoco, has far outspent the opposition, and signs for either side adorn many a yard and corner.

Rivas said that if the project is approved, it still would have to be reviewed by regulatory agencies, led by the California State Lands Commission.

“No action by the city or people will remove the right to regulate our facility,” she said.

Onshore facilities are a safer and cheaper way to produce oil, as any backup problems most likely would push oil back to the well head on land, where any spilled oil would be easier to capture. Any amount of oil that falls into the ocean — from leaks, blown by the wind or anything else — has to be reported and is difficult to capture, according to Rivas.

“We literally have to report drops,” she said.

The impacts of the project on the environment and neighbors has been a concern for some residents, citing vibrations from drilling, noise, traffic congestion from the additional trucks, and the risks of blowouts, explosion or leaks, especially since the area is near residential areas.

“If it (a blowout) happens in the sticks, it’s only Venoco gambling with its own assets,” Jordan said, referring to the company’s gas well blowout in late April in Glenn County. “Here, they’re asking us to gamble with them. We have too much to lose.”

Many organizations have supported the initiative, including many South Coast chambers of commerce, because of the potential millions of dollars in revenue.

While only the state, county and city would get royalty revenues if a commercial amount of oil is found, past studies have shown the likelihood of millions of barrels in the Paredon field, Rivas said.

“Why not get their paycheck?” she said of the city’s residents.

Venoco said it also would donate a portion of its Dump Road parcel land as open space and millions of dollars to the Carpinteria Education Foundation if the drilling project goes forward. If commercial amounts are not found, all equipment would be removed, and the land and money would not be donated.

As it works now, gas would come into the processing facility through pipes and be compressed, have odorant added and be distributed. Oil comes into the facility’s tanks, water is moved out and the oil goes to refineries in Los Angeles through a series of pipelines.

Click here to view more information about the initiative on the city of Carpinteria’s Web site.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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