County hears from public on emissions

Santa Maria Times, August 09, 2013 12:30 am  • 

A sparse crowd turned out Thursday for a public hearing on Santa Maria Energy’s proposed oil and gas drilling project in the Orcutt hills.

The hearing, held by the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department, focused on the recirculation of the air quality section of the proposed final environmental impact report for Santa Maria Energy’s oil and gas drilling and production plan for its project on the Careaga Lease south of Orcutt. Citing concern about the project’s projected greenhouse gas emissions, the Planning Commission ordered recirculation of the document with a proposed 50-percent reduction threshold for GHG.

The project calls for drilling 110 new wells on the lease east of Highway 135 and using cyclical steam injection to extract oil. It has a 26-well pilot project already in operation.

It will use recycled water from Laguna County Sanitation District that will be piped to the lease and flare gas from its own wells to produce the steam.

At peak production, the project will produce an estimated 88,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually, which in May caused the county Planning Commission to ask the Planning and Development Department to recirculate the air quality portion of the EIR. The commission voted 3-2 to set a 50-percent-of-business-as-usual emission threshold for the project.

On Thursday, Deputy Director Doug Anthony explained that the revised environmental impact report contained new greenhouse gas emission thresholds that could be applied to the project.

He also said it didn’t change the estimates on amount of greenhouse gas the project would produce, didn’t reveal any new significant environmental impacts, and didn’t feature any new mitigation measures.

The proposed final environmental impact report found the project caused less than significant Class II environmental impacts utilizing several mitigation measures including the state required cap-and-trade system which allows the company to mitigate is emission levels by investing in both on-site and off-site reduction measures. The program is part of the California Air Resources Board program to meet AB32 GHG reduction goals.

Anthony said the recirculated report includes the state’s 16 percent and 29 percent of business-as-usual emission reduction levels, along with the 50-percent threshold proposed by the Planning Commission and a 90-percent level.

The 90-percent threshold was included in the assessment because three of the state’s air pollution control districts — South Coast, Bay Area and San Luis Obispo County — have established a 10,000 metric ton annual limit for businesses.

Representatives of environmental groups at Thursday’s meeting lined up to ask the Planning and Development staff to hold the project to the most stringent levels.

“It’s a huge project. It’s precedent-setting,” said Michael Chiacos, of the Community Environmental Center, who wanted a zero-emission limit.

Nathan Alley, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Center, said thresholds lower than 90 percent didn’t belong in the EIR.

Ken Hough, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network, said the county needs to do everything it can to make sure the project is operated as cleanly as possible.

Speaking in favor of the long-scrutinized project, Michael Lopez, of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 114, said he thought it was a good one and should be allowed to move forward.

“This is one company in the last 30 years that’s trying to do it right,” he said.

The deadline to submit written comments on the recirculation document is Aug. 15 at 5 p.m.

No date has been set for the Planning Commission meeting on the document. Energy Division Deputy Director Kevin Drude said they hope to have the document, its public comments and their responses to those comments before the commission by the end of September.