Mapping Santa Maria's petroleum ordinance

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on Sept. 11, 2014:

Hopefully, all of the dialog about Measure P raises awareness about risks associated with petroleum production near our water resources and cities.

Measure P would restrict high-intensity oil production in the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County. It would not change the rules within the boundaries of the cities.

There is an excellent map produced by Santa Barbara County’s Planning and Development Department, showing there are two cities with active, state-designated oil or gas production fields — Goleta’s Elwood field, with a couple of active wells and one or two dozen inactive wells, some on-shore, some off-shore, in Goleta; and Santa Maria, the Santa Maria Valley field, with a couple of active wells and more than 300 inactive wells within city limits.

Using the enhanced-recovery techniques that would be curtailed by Measure P, it’s possible some of the long-abandoned wells within Santa Maria could be re-drilled. Such wells might also be productive again with conventional pumping, as the oil reservoirs may have recharged. What rules would govern re-drilling or new drilling within the city limits?

In a July 2013 staff report to City Council, the director of Community Development noted the, "... city currently has provisions that would allow the drilling and production of oil and gas within open space-zoned parcels. This would include all city parks as well as retention basins."

This raises the specter of pump jacks throughout our city. But, there is more. Santa Maria has petroleum ordinances in place that allow for drilling within the city, but limit wells to being no closer than these distances from the center lines of freeways, 300 feet; expressways and arterial roads, 200 feet; major roads and industrial and commercial streets, 190 feet; residential streets, 180 feet; and no closer than 200 feet from any building used for human occupancy, or within 500 feet of any building used for public assemblage, including schools.

Pump jacks in Preisker Park or Oakley Park? Using a scale and a street map, the distances in the ordinance would allow it, but the county’s map of oil and gas fields shows those fields are all south of Stowell and mainly south of Battles.

Pump jacks in the retention basins along Miller at Enos and at Inger? No. Too close to roads and houses. Adam Park and Minami Community Center? Maybe.

What’s left? Area 9, of course. An 890-acre area, bounded by Betteravia to the south, A Street to the east, Black Road to the west, and the Santa Maria Valley Railroad to the north. The area is mostly agricultural today, with some industry, but the Area 9 Specific Plan, approved 2½ years ago, calls for mostly industrial land uses — 85 percent of the area — and allows oil drilling within the industrial areas. Hundreds of homes are just to the east and downwind of Area 9, with more being built.

Is the city of Santa Maria interested in seeing this happen? Did the city annex Area 9 to glean the tax revenue from renewed oil production there? If so, the city should have stopped approving residential development immediately downwind from Area 9. Building continues and more residential was approved just two weeks ago at Blosser and Carmen, where a new school is also under construction.

Granted, these developments are beyond the distances specified in the city’s petroleum ordinance. But they are all downwind of Area 9, and residents are worried.

The City Council should protect residents by amending its petroleum ordinance to eliminate oil production within city limits.

Ken Hough is executive director of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). He can be reached at [email protected]. Looking Forward runs every Friday in the Santa Maria Times, providing a progressive viewpoint on local issues.