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Aera Energy Looking to Tap Into Its East Cat Canyon Oil Field Near Santa Maria

The company has applied for a land-use permit for redevelopment of a facility estimated to produce up to 10,000 barrels a day

Aera Energy, which produces about a quarter of the oil in California, has applied for a land-use permit to re-establish its East Cat Canyon Oil Field, about 10 miles southeast of Santa Maria.
Aera Energy, which produces about a quarter of the oil in California, has applied for a land-use permit to re-establish its East Cat Canyon Oil Field, about 10 miles southeast of Santa Maria. (Aera Energy photo)

A Bakersfield-based oil company is looking to re-establish its East Cat Canyon Oil Field, about 10 miles southeast of Santa Maria, and applied for a land-use permit on April 17.

Aera Energy LLC officials say the company would be using the steam injection process to produce oil at the location, and 296 wells would be established on the property. If approved, the company estimates production at the facility would produce up to 10,000 barrels a day and create more than $1.3 billion in economic activity.

It's a 30-year project, and the company anticipates oil production would begin by 2020.

Noozhawk caught up with Susan Hersberger, who is Aera's project manager for public affairs on the project. She provided some background on the company that is hoping to begin its first production project in Santa Barbara County.

Headquartered in Bakersfield, Aera was formed when Shell and Mobil combined their California exploration and production operations.

Aera looks for the oil and extracts it, selling it to larger purchasers. Hersberger said the company produces about a quarter of oil in the state, and has operations in Kern, Ventura, Monterey and Fresno counties.

"We're one of the largest California producers," she said. "We just have not had a presence in Santa Barbara County."

Aera came into ownership of the East Cat Canyon Oil Field in 1997, when the field's former owners, Shell Oil,  transferred the property. Shortly after it was transferred, the wells were decommissioned.

Shell had been operating there since the early 1980s, Hersberger said, and at the time the property was transferred it was not in active production.

"That's why we describe it as a redevelopment of the field," she said, adding that the wells were removed but some of the other infrastructure remains in place, such as the roads and some of the well pads.

The project the company is proposing now would put in 296 wells, including 141 that would be used for oil wells, and a similar number used for steam injection. The remainder would be used for well observation.

The company has long-term contracts with Shell and Exxon-Mobil, the owners of the company now, for the oil.

Hersberger expected the environmental review process, which will include an environmental impact report, or EIR, to take up to two years.

She also stressed that no fresh water would be used in the oil production process. Instead, the company plans to use non-potable water recycled from the oil well, which would be used for the steam-injection process.

The oil in northern Santa Barbara County is a very heavy, thick crude oil, and the heat from the steam would help loosen the oil and facilitate the flow, she said. The company would have some fresh water that would be used for required for dust suppression and sanitation, but "relatively little use of fresh water."

Hershberger said the company hired the UCSB Economic Forecast Project to look at the economic benefits the project would bring, which found that the project could be as much as $1.5 billion in total economic activity.

"There's a pretty significant economic benefit locally," she said.

The company plans to post updates on the project on its website, available by clicking here.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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