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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 11:43 am | Overcast 61º


Santa Barbara County Planning Commission Denies Orcutt Oil Field Project

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission blocked a proposal by Pacific Coast Energy Company to double the amount of onshore oil drilling and production allowed on an approximately 3.1-acre property on the Orcutt Oil Field.

Commissioners voted 3-2 last week to deny the Orcutt Hill Resource Enhancement Plan Project involving the drilling and operation of 96 new cyclic-steamed oil wells on eight existing oil field well pad locations at 1555 Orcutt Hill Road.

Commissioners C. Michael Cooney, Cecilia Brown and Marell Brooks opposed PCEC’s proposed project.  

At a hearing on June 29, the project was discussed and continued to give county staff time to draft their findings for denial. Staff found that the project’s unavoidable environmental impacts would not be outweighed by the benefits of the project.

The commission's denial cited the unavoidable impacts to biological resources and water resources due to expected oil seeps and potential spills, according to county staff.

Surface oil seeps would possibly impact sensitive environmental habitats including California Tiger Salamander upland habitat and approximately 360 Lompoc yerba santa plants, a federally-listed endangered plant species.  

“I’m a plant person and you can tell by my concern about some of the native species,” Brown said. “This commission has not seen what the applicants intent is (about the habitat restoration). I like to look at that kind of detail.”

Commissioner Daniel Blough opposed her statement.

“We had a pretty good piece of testimony from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife about how well PCEC was restoring the site,” Blough said.

The project plan states if any of the total of 192 wells prove to be uneconomic, 48 of the total wells would be permitted to be replaced at an alternate location on any of the approved well sites.

Plans state the wells would produce up to 3,600 barrels of oil per day, generate an estimated $2.6 million in annual property taxes and add up to 75 on-site jobs during drilling and construction.

PCEC is expected to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors.

“We believe the rationale for denial of the project is not supported by substantial evidence,” said Shivaun Cooney, representing the energy company.

“Rather than focusing on the tangible benefits and concrete analysis regarding the project, the proposed denial is based on unfounded speculation regarding hypothetical potential impacts.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland 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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