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Detail of ERG Cat Canyon project site map

A detail of a site map included in the environmental impact report for ERG Operating Co.'s proposed West Cat Canyon Revitalization Plan shows how new wells would be located on existing well pads on one of 20 parcels encompassed by the project. Existing thermal wells are green, existing nonthermal wells are blue and new thermal wells are red circles with the number proposed at each pad printed in the center. A disposal well is indicated by an orange diamond. Existing well pads are outlined in blue, and a new well pad is outlined in hot pink.

A proposal to add 187 new steam-injected oil wells and a new natural gas pipeline in West Cat Canyon will be considered by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission when it meets Wednesday in Santa Maria.

Project opponents have said they intend to stage a demonstration outside and speak against the project that would have significant impacts on biological, surface water and groundwater resources and would increase noise, according to the environmental impact report.

Commissioners also are expected to hear an appeal of revisions to the lighting and landscaping plan that were approved for the already constructed Golden Inn and Village in Santa Ynez.

The meeting is scheduled to begin with the Golden Inn appeal at 9 a.m. in the Supervisors Hearing Room of the Joseph Centeno Betteravia Government Administration Building at 511 E. Lakeside Parkway.

The project to be considered by the commission is reduced in size from a larger project originally proposed for the site.

ERG initially proposed 233 new steam-injected oil and gas wells on 91 existing pads — nine of which would be expanded — 10 new well pads and one new equipment pad along with four new steam generators, new inner field pipelines and support equipment on about 75 acres of ERG’s 8,054-acre property in West Cat Canyon.

A new 8-inch-diameter, 3.5-mile-long natural gas fuel pipeline was also proposed to provide fuel for routine field operations, although an existing 4-inch line would remain in place as a backup.

Fresh water from onsite wells would be used for well drilling, dust suppression and domestic uses, while produced water from steam injection would be treated and reused for the same purpose.

At peak production, the project was estimated to export up to 10,000 barrels of blended crude oil per day to the Santa Maria Pump Station on Battles Road.

A barrel of oil is 42 U.S. gallons, or about 159 liters, and is the standard unit of measurement for the international oil market.

From the Santa Maria Pump Station, the blended crude would be pumped via pipeline to the Phillips 66 refinery west of Nipomo and another Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo, located in Contra Costa County. 

Initially, the blended crude would be delivered to the pump station via tanker truck, limited to 37 trips per day, which would cease once ERG’s previously approved Foxen Petroleum Pipeline becomes operational.

However, construction of that pipeline has not yet begun, and its use would also depend on the replacement of the shut-down Plains All American Pipeline from Gaviota to Sisquoc.

Environmental impacts

Two significant, unavoidable environmental impacts — to biological and water resources — from potential oil spills over the 40-year life of the project were identified in the EIR.

In addition to degraded water quality, spills could result in the loss of habitat for rare plants, the endangered California tiger salamander and the threatened California red-legged frog.

A third significant, unavoidable impact identified by the EIR would result from noise created by 24-hour well drilling two to three days at a time over a two-year period.

Mitigation measures identified in the EIR focused on reducing the magnitude and spread of spills, as well as the impact of clean-up operations, and minimizing noise, including coordination with adjacent oil projects proposed by Aera Energy and PetroRock.

As a result of the potential environmental impacts, the County Planning & Development Department staff recommended one of four alternative projects identified in the EIR that would reduce the risk of spills as well as noise levels but not eliminate them.

ERG agreed to apply for the alternative project that would eliminate 46 new wells and 10 new well pads and associated new access roads, thus leading to 12.7 fewer acres of ground being disturbed and cutting estimated peak production to 8,000 barrels per day.

During Wednesday’s hearing, planning commissioners will consider certifying the environmental impact report and approving the well drilling and production plan and the natural gas pipeline development plan.

However, at least 13 groups plan to participate in a protest outside the Government Administration Building prior to the start of the meeting, and 10 people representing most of those groups plan to speak during the hearing.

Opponents said they will ask the commission to deny the project “to protect the climate, air quality, water resources and public health of nearby families.”

They claim the ERG, Aera Energy and PetroRock projects combined would add 760 new wells in Cat Canyon, tripling the county’s oil production and posing a risk to drinking water, people’s health and the county’s tourist economy.

Proponents of the project, including union members and representatives from the business community, said they also plan to testify during the hearing.

Supporters say Cat Canyon has been a center of oil production for more than 100 years and the project will add thousands of dollars to county coffers through taxes and many times that to the local economy through jobs and the “multiplier effect.”

They also say modern drilling and production techniques prevent contamination of groundwater and make the chances of a spill minimal.

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