For the third time since news broke earlier this summer that Venoco Energy Inc. had used hydraulic fracturing on an existing oil lease near Los Alamos, Santa Barbara County supervisors held an official hearing about the controversial oil harvesting technique. Originally caught off guard by the revelation that Veneco was “fracking” in the county, county staffers — under the direction of the supes and with input from various oil industry stakeholders — have been working to develop a petroleum code update so that they never get caught off guard again.
To that end, the supes instructed staff with a unanimous vote this week to flesh out and seek Planning Commission approval of an amendment that would make clear that any hopeful frackers need a specific Oil Drilling and Production Plan approved by the county and a business plan on file with County Fire that details the various chemicals used during the process.
Also on Tuesday, it was revealed that the county recently rescinded the two Notice of Violations it had served on Venoco in the wake of the discovery. At the time, the county believed that Venoco was not within the terms of its oil drilling permit when it decided to frack in two separate wells this past spring. However, after consulting with county counsel, folks from Planning and Development decided that, while the fracking certainly occurred, the language of their permits was loose enough to allow for fracking, at least in a legal sense, without any additional disclosure by the oil company.
Since then, however, that permitting gray area has been cleared up, according to Planning and Development Director Glenn Russell, and any future fracking will be properly noticed with the appropriate regulatory agency. Furthermore, should the policy amendment discussed this week eventually become a reality, that distinction will only be further clarified. The Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled to discuss the proposed policy tweak at its November 9 meeting.