Enviros, earth crusaders, and assorted other folks concerned with the well-being of our coastline got a new bogeyman this week as the draft Environmental Impact Report for a proposed oil and gas drilling operation in Carpinteria was released for public consumption. The hefty 763-page document details the good, the bad, and the ugly associated with the Paredon Project-a proposal from local oil heavyweight Venoco that aims to mine the crude oil and natural gas hiding in two existing state oil leases just offshore from the company’s property near the Carpinteria Bluffs.

A 175-foot crane was erected on Venoco's property in Carpinteria last year to simulate the size and scale of its proposed new oil drilling facility. This is a view of the crane from the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve, near the seal rookery.
Ted Rhodes

The release kicks off what is sure to be a long and arduous approval process. Kira Schmidt, the executive director of local water watchdog group Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, summed up the feelings of many Paredon detractors Tuesday morning: “I don’t need to read the document to know that there are many, many areas of concern associated with this project : Venoco is going to have to bend over backward and get really lucky for this thing to go through.” Venoco spokesman Mike Edwards sang a decidedly more hopeful tune in the wake of the release. “Our hope is that people take an honest look at it and that a dialogue can begin,” he explained before adding, “Certainly some people will see specific benefits, and other people will see those same things as negative impacts.”

Venoco’s plan for Paredon, which was purchased from Chevron in 1999, calls for the revamping of the 55-acre facility near the Carpinteria seal rookery to allow for a daily harvest of some 11,000 barrels of crude and 22 million cubic feet of gas. Further, at the center of the company’s proposal-and a prime target of the community-based resistance to the plan-is a 140-foot drill that would be sited on the property, allowing Venoco to drain the 35 new land and marine wells it plans to develop. Venoco claims the practice will yield $15 million-$108 million in royalties to the City of Carpinteria as well as $60 million-$430 million for the state. As Edwards put it, “Geologically speaking, there is a whole lot of oil around here.”

But financial incentives are just one small piece of the overall EIR puzzle. This draft identifies potential “significant and unmitigatable” impacts of the plan, not to mention dozens of lesser though more easily remedied environmental shortcomings. Chief among the concerns outlined in the document is the risk of oil spills associated with the operation and the increased chance of hazardous materials getting into the ocean and/or groundwater during the extraction process and subsequent delivery to refineries in the Los Angeles area via an existing coastal pipeline.

According to the EIR, while Venoco has indicated it would upgrade the safety features of the current facility to match the heightened activity, the additional volume of oil being moved around for the project’s tentative 16-year duration would tip the scales of possible disaster in a most unfavorable direction-even more disturbing given the proximity of the seal rookery and the numerous storm drain crossings the pipeline encounters on its way south.

And then there is the aforementioned drill, which would not only tower over the area’s tree line by about 70 feet but could also potentially damage the viewshed for people enjoying areas like Tar Pits Park, the Carpinteria Bluffs, Viola Fields, and the South Coast’s crown jewel of surf spots, Rincon Point. The sheer magnitude of the drill-which the EIR suggests could be screened by, among other things, pseudo-lighthouse armor-has been the primary focus of the grassroots organization Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs, which has been mounting an increasingly robust resistance to the proposal since early last year.

Looking to better inform the public about the many ups and downs associated with the plan, the City of Carpinteria is holding an informational hearing on the EIR on June 26 at Carpinteria High School. The actual EIR hearing itself will take place July 30 at Carpinteria City Hall.


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