Putting months of rumors to rest, Bakersfield-based Aera Energy turned in its application to the county’s Planning department last week to drill hundreds of wells on the company’s East Cat Canyon Oil Field property near Santa Maria. The proposal — which will likely involve years of review — is for 296 wells, 141 of which would extract oil and 107 of which would inject steam 3,000 feet underground to thin and free the crude. The remaining 48 would be a combination of observation wells (to monitor the underground goings-on), non-potable water wells, water-injection wells, and freshwater wells, which wouldn’t be used for operations but for fire protection and dust control. Known as steam flooding, Aera’s drilling process differs slightly from the increasingly popular cyclic steam injection method.
An industry heavy-hitter in California and across the country, Aera, which is owned by affiliates of Shell and ExxonMobil, hasn’t operated in Santa Barbara County before but produces in Kern, Fresno, Ventura, and Monterey counties. Its oil field here previously belonged to Shell and was transferred to Aera upon the company’s creation in 1997. “Aera Energy looks forward to being a long-term partner in Santa Barbara County,” said the company’s public affairs project manager, Susan Hersberger. “This project will safely and responsibly produce domestic energy supplies while protecting the environment and providing jobs, tax revenue, and community support.” If all goes as planned, production could start in 2020, although construction would occur incrementally over 10 years.
Aera joins two other area operators submitting new applications to the county. Pacific Coast Energy Company (PCEC) is vying to double its 96 cyclic-steaming-well project, and ERG Operating Company has requested to drill another 233 cyclic-steaming wells. Aera — along with PCEC, ERG, and other Santa Barbara County companies — poured money into fighting Measure P last year, donating more than $3 million to the statewide industry group Californians for Energy Independence and more than $22,000 to the regional anti-P campaign