Mark DePuy, COO of TerraCore Operating Co.
Mark DePuy, chief operating officer for TerraCore Operating Co., speaks during a Santa Barbara County Planning Commission meeting Wednesday morning about his company’s development plans. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The ERG Resources proposal to expand drilling operations in Cat Canyon has been delayed indefinitely while the oil firm, now under new ownership, prepares plans for a solar project for the site.

After being continued from the May 29 meeting, the item was removed from the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission agenda on Wednesday morning. The request had been submitted weeks ago by the applicant.

“The reason for that was that they were in the process of developing a greenhouse gas mitigation plan that your commission requested some time ago,” said Errin Briggs, energy specialist and supervising planner with the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department.

In 2014, the firm submitted an application for the West Cat Canyon Revitalization Plan, calling for 233 new thermally enhanced oil production wells, 11 new and 91 existing well and equipment pads, four additional steam generators and additional piping.

However, the review process identified an “environmentally superior” alternative, now adopted by ERG as the revised project, proposing 187 new thermally enhanced wells and no new well pads. The project also seeks to add four steam generators and other support equipment on land seven miles southeast of Santa Maria.

A number of questions, including regarding greenhouse gas emissions, were raised during two hearings held earlier this year.

In recent weeks, another firm has acquired ERG Resources, which filed for bankruptcy in 2015. That new firm, Denver-based TerraCore Operating Co., acquired the company’s assets for nearly $27 million, according to local real estate records.

Chief Operating Officer Mark DePuy of TerraCore said Wednesday that the firm has operations in oil field development across the West. DePuy previously worked as a chief executive officer for Venoco in Santa Barbara County.

“It has enabled me to gain an in-depth understanding of how to do business in Santa Barbara County,” he told the commission, adding that ERG field employees essentially will remain the same. TerraCore also has individuals “to bring added accountability, experience and expertise that will be integral to our success as an operator in the plan that is before you.”

The firm’s CEO, William McConathy, and his family will relocate to the Central Coast, according to DePuy.

“Will and others on the team will seek to bring innovation to these existing operations with the goal of making the field more efficient and less impactful with respect to a variety of energy-saving initiatives and emission reduction programs,” DePuy said.

The team has the experience in renewable energy technology, DePuy said, leading to the request for a delay to develop a solar energy complement to the West Cat Canyon Revitalization Plan.

“This will not only serve to mitigate greenhouse gas impacts from the project and provide critical energy needs for our operations but also provides a foundation for us to become an energy company of the future as we transition away from fossil fuels,” DePuy said.

Consultant Nathan Eady said TerraCore representatives expect to meet with staff within four to six weeks about the revised plan. He estimated that the revisions likely will mean that the project won’t return to the commission for several months because of the addition of “the pretty substantial solar component.”

Project opponents renewed their concerns about the expanded oil drilling proposal, including the worries about groundwater contamination and more.

“Small operators are risky operators,” said Katie Davis, chair of the Sierra Club’s Los Padres Chapter.

Rules allow Santa Barbara County to oversee sales of some oil assets linked to offshore drilling to ensure that they are fiscally sound and capable of safe operations. However, a loophole does not provide that same oversight for a sale of an onshore project such as ERG, she said.

“The county needs to protect us, our health, our water, our climate,” Davis added. “You can dress it up with solar panels and pretty words, but this is a risky, dangerous and speculative project with class one significant and unavoidable impacts that should be denied sooner rather than later.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.