Pacific Coast Energy Company’s (PCEC) plan to double the size of its existing 96 cyclic steaming wells project — the first oil drilling proposal to go before the County Board of Supervisors since they adopted the state’s strictest greenhouse-gas-emission standards last year — is on life support.
At the eleventh hour, PCEC offered a handful of environmental amenities to its proposed project after the Planning Commission denied the project earlier this year. They included reducing the project’s carbon emissions — to zero, below the newly adopted restrictions — by purchasing offsets; accepting a labor agreement for infrastructure construction; and studying rare plants for five years on the oil field while limiting the drilling to areas outside of what is known as the Careaga tar zone to reduce seepage. Though the oil field has historically been prone to seepage, county energy staff said, oil seeps have increased since PCEC began cyclic steaming there in 2007.
That has since resulted in four leaks and necessitated the installation of 99 seep cans, environmentalists stressed. “Here they are coming and asking to double those operations without cleaning it up,” said Alicia Roessler, staff attorney at the Environmental Defense Center. Others contended any additional endangered-species protections are already covered under the law.
But oil company workers such as Cody Miller, holding his 10-month-old baby, argued energy companies provide some of the county’s only well-paying jobs. Plus, they charged, the Orcutt Hill has been a state-designated oil field since the late 19th century.
Given the new offerings, Supervisor Doreen Farr suggested county energy staff bring back more detailed project options, with outright denial still on the table. Even though county supervisors Peter Adam and Steve Lavagnino — who asked, among several questions, if carbon offsets could be purchased locally — appeared poised to approve the motion, Supervisor Salud Carabjal, who is running for Congress, said unusually, “I’m going to wait to vote at the end after Mr. Adam.” Supervisor Janet Wolf expressed an unwillingness to approve the project whatsoever, saying it “just about knocked me off my seat every time” the seepage issue came up. The matter will return to the board on November 1.