This week, a majority of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors took a courageous stand for our environment. Pacific Coast Energy Company (PCEC) had pressed hard for approval to drill another 144 new cyclic steam injection oil wells, doubling the size of their operations near Orcutt. In July, the Planning Commission had denied the project for its significant impacts to air quality, endangered and sensitive species, critical habitat, and water quality.
Cyclic steam injection is a very risky drilling technique in which water is super-heated and pumped underground to liquefy hard to access oil reserves. This procedure is much more energy and carbon intensive than conventional oil drilling, uses massive quantities of water, has a high well-casing failure rate, and has been linked to new oil seeps and contaminated groundwater. Making the case for denial, last year PCEC had the highest volume of spills of any oil company in Santa Barbara County. In fact, its existing operations in the Orcutt field have caused more than 99 accidental oil seeps and 24 spills, delivering significant damage to water quality and endangered species.
However, in an attempt to distract from their terrible record, PCEC attempted to sell this project as a job creator, in spite of the fact that there is no evidence that there will be any new, permanent jobs. Our supervisors who denied this dangerous project deserve our thanks for recognizing that doubling the size of a bad project would only lead to twice the damage and twice the risk.
Owen Bailey is executive director of the Environmental Defense Center.