<b>MONEY IN THE MUCK?</b> Santa Maria Energy’s drilling plan was first proposed in 2009. Supporters of the project say it would be a boon for job creation and tax revenue.

Paul Wellman (file)

MONEY IN THE MUCK? Santa Maria Energy’s drilling plan was first proposed in 2009. Supporters of the project say it would be a boon for job creation and tax revenue.

110 New Oil Wells On the Way?

County Gives Santa Maria Energy Permission to Drill, But Appeal Is Likely

Thursday, October 3, 2013
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After the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission voted 3-2 last week to approve the Santa Maria Energy Oil Drilling and Production Plan ​— ​136 oil wells across 32 acres near Orcutt ​— ​people on both sides of the vote began to worry that the project could set a precedent. The vote was in favor of limiting the project’s greenhouse-gas emissions to a 29 percent threshold, meaning that instead of the project’s projected 88,000 metric tons of emissions per year, just under 67,000 will be allowed. While those who voted for the 29 percent mark deemed it too restrictive, others said it doesn’t nearly go far enough and makes this project the first in the county to able to release more than 10,000 metric tons of emissions per year.

The Environmental Defense Center (EDC), which has argued that Santa Maria Energy could technically limit its emissions to zero, is likely to file an appeal by the October 7 deadline, said Nathan Alley, an EDC attorney. If appealed, the approval would go to the Board of Supervisors. Alley said the Planning Commission’s thumbs-up to the higher-than-normal limit merits some questions. “They had used the 10,000-metric-tons-per-year threshold for other projects, so at the very least, we were hoping the county would be consistent,” he said.

Immediately after the commissioners’ vote, Santa Maria Energy released a statement, saying “We are pleased with the Planning Commission’s approval of our project and want to especially thank all of our supporters. The decision was well-deliberated and we hope that is fully considered before someone decides to appeal.” Without an appeal, said public and government affairs manager Bob Poole, the company could move forward with the permitting process for the 110 new wells ​— ​there are already 26 pilot wells on the site ​— ​along with two steam generators, a crude-oil pipeline, and a water pipeline that will transfer recycled wastewater from the Laguna County Sanitation District for the steam generators. The oil will be produced through a process called cyclic steam injection, which involves injecting steam into the wells to get the oil to flow. The steam generators will be the producers of the greenhouse gases.

The initial vote for the project was 3-2 against a proposed 16 percent emissions threshold, which commissioners Daniel Blough (5th District) and Larry Ferini (4th District) supported. The final vote, also 3-2, approved the 29 percent threshold, which 1st District Commissioner Michael Cooney and 3rd District Commissioner Joan Hartmann voted against, saying it wasn’t high enough of a restriction on the greenhouse gases.

The 29 percent and 16 percent threshold designations came in the wake of the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, otherwise known as AB 32. Under the law, California is aiming to get its greenhouse-gas emissions down to 1990 levels by 2020, with a statewide threshold of 16 percent. Santa Barbara County’s threshold is higher, at 29 percent.

What Cooney wanted, he said, was for the project’s total emissions to not exceed about 29,000 metric tons per year, a number accounting for the 18,000 metric tons that the existing wells produce now, plus an additional 10,000-plus for the new project. The 29,000 metric tons would be more than the 10,000-metric-ton limit ​— ​which has been imposed on projects such as the Goleta Storage Area and Key Site 30 in Orcutt with the understanding that under that limit, no mitigations are required, Cooney said ​— ​but preferable to the 67,000 metric tons approved.

“I have a strong belief that new stationary projects like this one should try to eliminate more greenhouse-gas emissions than the Planning Commission approved,” Cooney said, adding his fears about a precedent. “It’s not going to be good enough to just run in place. We have to make up for lost ground.”

If the project were to go over the 29 percent threshold, Alley explained, Santa Maria Energy will have to buy credits to mitigate the excess. Buying credits is a process by which other energy companies can sell credits when they clock in under their own thresholds. There aren’t currently any trading programs in the area, Alley said, but that implementing a program in the county would be good for the economy and the environment.

Although he voted in favor of the 29 percent threshold, Commissioner Blough said he thought the state standard of 16 percent would have been fairer. “I wouldn’t call it a good compromise,” he said. “I think it’s a bad precedent. I’m not going to do anything to thwart [Santa Maria Energy’s] ability to do business.”

Barring an appeal, construction on the project could start next year, Poole said, with the wells drilled over the next few years.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

I have seen published information ( sorry , can't remember where I saw it) that the type of oil extracted from this project makes it likely to end up as export. If true , we are to allow 67000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions , for Santa Maria Energy profit , while not supplying any oil for domestic consumption. This makes no sense to me. Why would we want to foul the atmosphere to fuel dirty engines in Shanghai where you already can't see the sky through the smog? Just so SME can explode their profit margin? Again , this makes no sense.

geeber (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 2:16 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It's either Oil Wells or FRACKing, you pick!

dou4now (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 5:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

An geeber, it's PROFIT for Santa Maria Energy, which I believe is a local company that employs county residents. Most of our locally produced oil is not used for vehicle fuel. It's heavy/sour used for asphalt and such. Since we aren't prioritizing repaving or repairing our roads, how does it stay in the county???
And yes, I prefer drilling to fracking.

BeachFan (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 8:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Love that American exceptionalism, the way we break new ground on ground breaking (lol!) technology to better our lives....???? money money money money money, money!

spacey (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 2:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If anyone cares to educate themselves about this project rather than just spreading conjecture, below are the links to the two County staff reports on the project:

discoboy (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 5:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Beach dude, employees ? Ha , how many.? Steam extraction = water befouled and gone from possible ag or domestic use. But they will use recycled water you say. You believe that they will rely only on recycled water ? Wanna buy a bridge? 67,000 tons annually of added greenhouse gasses at a time we are striving to lower emissions? For what? To send lousy , dirty product to China where they already can't see the sun for the smog. All to pad a few fat cat wallets? Plain stupid.

geeber (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 5:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Some people are so hard core enviro that no matter the restrictions they'll oppose any oil project. As soon as one looks like it will get approved the exaggerated numbers and lies start spilling out. Plain stupid.

When they start selling a wind and sun powered SUV I'll start listening again. They just don't get it through their heads we MUST have oil, even if it's from our area. By the way, the majority of those that oppose the project are from south county while the north county supports it. Guess where the project is? That's right, north county.

"pad a few fat cat wallets"... Not before they pay heavy taxes into local coffers to support those services ALL of our resident need and support. After all, this project is using existing oil fields that DO NOT have any effect on south county.

Validated (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 9:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Validated, you say " They just don't get it through their heads we MUST have oil, even if it's from our area. " So just how much of the oil from this project will " WE" be using? Not a drop. I agree with you that we are hopelessly oil dependent and I would be happy to keep domestic oil here for our use. Where I disagree with the drill baby drillers is when they support a project that degrades our local environment to produce a low grade product that is shipped overseas creating profit for very few at our expense. Jobs? Don't make me laugh. How many jobs ? I know , do you ?

geeber (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 4:01 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Jobs and tax revenues. Good ones at that. No Mickey D's jobs here, unless you count the ones created by the extra demand for services.

And I have to laugh sometimes at the radical enviros. Do you actually think that if the oil isn't extracted here that it won't be extracted elsewhere instead? That's pretty naive if you think so. The only difference is that the jobs and tax revenues go elsewhere. The global carbon footprint stays unchanged.

Botany (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 6:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Yeah Botany , 50 jobs or less, and 67000 tons of greenhouse gasses annually. Real smart.

geeber (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Could the steam be generated by solar during the daytime?

Would some of the sludge be used at the santa Maria asphalt plant?

passagerider (anonymous profile)
October 5, 2013 at 1:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I've never heard of a Laguna County in California, am I missing something?

GluteousMaximus (anonymous profile)
October 14, 2013 at 5:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Laguna County (as in, Santa Barbara County) Sanitation District handles wastewater from the unincorporated Orcutt area.

discoboy (anonymous profile)
October 14, 2013 at 9:51 a.m. (Suggest removal)


Oil, by law can NOT be exported. It is 100% against the law, so that rumor is untrue.

However in the end, oil is a product sold on a WORLD WIDE market; it is priced accordingly.

So it makes little if any difference, if it is sold here or abroad. the prices will equilibrate based on WORLDWIDE supply and demand.

thomas592003 (anonymous profile)
October 30, 2013 at 7:39 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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