Comments don’t count?

A donnybrook took place Wednesday at the county Planning Commission meeting in Santa Maria over whether to approve a large expansion of ERG oil and gas drilling in Cat Canyon. ERG Petroleum faced off against an army of resource and climate defenders.

The Planning Department and ERG Inc. presented the final environmental impact report (EIR) and their case for going ahead with 187 new, super-steam-injecting wells drilled through the Santa Maria groundwater basin. After lunch, commissioners heard comments from about many attendees. The comments were about 2-1 against this mega-development.

Commenting first, I got one minute to describe several inadequacies in the EIR. I picked three big ones, which were:

ERG is ignoring a natural gas risk-management plan requirement. Per the EIR, ERG won’t be required to comply with this safety code even when their gas production triples in the future.

The EIR ignores recent federal findings of cyclic-steam oil extraction causing groundwater contamination at Orcutt Hill, Oxnard and Bakersfield facilities.

The EIR doesn’t describe code compliance by ERG at their current facilities, let alone potential compliance with regulations at a much larger and more dangerous facility.

After hearing all the comments, planning commissioners said they will only consider comments from ERG, county planners and one opposing group, the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), at their next meeting. The EDC did a fantastic job in revealing many EIR flaws, but then why did we all spend the whole day there?

To ignore other EIR inadequacies that I and others detailed is a blatant violation of the review process. Will the commission conduct a legal evaluation of the EIR at its March 27 meeting? Stay tuned.

Larry Bishop


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