Proposed Orcutt Hill oil drilling, our editorials on parks

1. Pacific Coast Energy Company’s Orcutt Hill Project
2. Our editorials on parks

1. URGENT: Pacific Coast Energy Company’s Orcutt Hill Project

The proposed Final EIR for Pacific Coast Energy Company’s plan to add 96 cyclic-steaming oil wells—and as many as 48 more—to its Orcutt Hill property is to be reconsidered on Wednesday, June 29, 2016 by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission at the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. and this item is expected to come up sometime after 10:30 a.m. and will likely continue after their lunch break.

SBCAN urged a year ago, last month, and will continue to urge, denial of the project. All of us should oppose the project, including the scaled-back alternatives, for the following reasons:

  1. Crude-oil seeps - The drilling would occur in an area that is already suffering extensive damage from over 100 oil seeps that have been caused or exacerbated by the project to date. California Department of Fish and Wildlife predicts another 225 seeps in the next 25 years if the Project is approved.  Seeps can emerge in densely vegetated areas and steep canyons, and are not always discovered right away, if at all.  The crude oil can be carried downstream by rain events into Orcutt and San Antonio Creeks, threatening Santa Barbara’s County’s precious water resources.
  2. Significant Threats to Human Health and the Environment from Air Pollution – The project will result in significant increases in air emissions and contribute to global climate change. The proposed mitigation measures for greenhouse gas emissions are vague, uncertain and unenforceable.
  3. Inconsistencies with County Comprehensive Plan – The project would violate numerous County Comprehensive Plan policies, including Orcutt Community Plan and Conservation Element policies that protect biological resources. Other projects, like the Verizon cell tower on Kenneth Avenue in Orcutt, have been recently denied due to inconsistencies with county plans.
  4. Substantial Loss of Biodiversity – The project site is one of the most biologically rich locations in Santa Barbara County.  The project will significantly impact the endangered California tiger salamander, including inundating their burrows and drowning them in the crude oil seeps; the Southern Bishop Pine Forest, which is one of the rarest and most imperiled plant communities in the world; the Burton Mesa Chaparral, another globally significant plant community found only in our area; and the Lompoc yerba santa, a rare Santa Barbara County plant species, which is found in only six locations in the world including the subject property. This is the most important location for this species in the world.

The County Planning Commission must deny the project because the County cannot make a Statement of Overriding Considerations pursuant to CEQA.  The project’s economic benefit, such as temporary jobs, is very limited.  The potential property tax revenue from the project would be less than 1% of the County’s overall property tax revenue. Adverse economic impacts (e.g., health-care costs related to air pollution; impacts to water supplies; and potential oil spills) will harm our community if the project is approved.  Any limited benefits do not outweigh the significant loss of biodiversity, air pollution and climate change this project would bring to Santa Barbara County and its residents. Therefore, because there is no substantial evidence demonstrating that project benefits outweigh impacts, the County cannot make the Findings of Overriding Considerations and must deny the project.  Moreover, the County cannot make findings to approve the project because it is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

We hope you will all urge the Commission to deny the proposed Orcutt Hill oil drilling and seeps project.

Please read on, if you missed our May 9 call to action for the earlier Planning Commission hearing on this topic: The big picture is that we need to wean ourselves from fossil fuels, especially to address global climate change. This project does not help; instead the county should be encouraging and approving renewable-energy projects. Greenhouse gas emissions are listed in the EIR as a Class II environmental impact. In light of the County’s threshold of 1,000 metric tons of GHG emissions, adopted last year, the GHG impacts of the project are far more limited than they would have been absent adoption of that threshold. Still, 1,000 metric tons of GHG emissions PER YEAR hurts our efforts to maintain our planet’s livability. BUT, the GHG impact should be listed as Class I because the listed mitigations are vague, deferred, and not verifiable.

The detailed picture is that there are solid grounds for denial of the project: Class I impacts that are significant and unavoidable in the areas of sensitive species habitats and hydrology and water quality. We should be doing all we can to save endangered species like the California tiger salamander (CTS), among others.

There are alternatives in the EIR that are designed to protect the CTS; PCEC, in its comments on the Draft EIR, wrote that the CTS alternatives, “fail to meet project objectives to an unacceptable degree.” Our county should not put oil-company profits ahead of working to ensure the survival of an endangered species.

There are also alternatives in the EIR that are designed to reduce the probability of the cyclic steaming exacerbating the oil seeps (which have occurred naturally, but have been exacerbated by cyclic steaming) and to reduce the probability of “surface expressions,” which are the surfacing of steam and other materials injected into the ground.

There are also mitigation measures that would reduce the frequency or severity of an oil spill reaching a drainage or waterway, but impacts would remain significant and unavoidable.

We need to argue vigorously that these impacts can only be avoided by denial of the project.

Please join us at the Planning Commission hearing on June 29. Please call Ken Hough at (805) 563-0463 or email him at [email protected].

For more information, please read our op-ed: "Orcut Hill oil benefits less than impacts," published in the Santa Maria Times, June 9, 2016:

2. Our editorials on parks

We recently published two editorials on how renovating parks can rejuvenate neighborhoods if the governmental entity works with the residents and groups that are concerned with the parks. These editorials pertain to Buena Vista Park in Santa Maria, but the planning principles could be used in any area of the county. Please click on the links below to read them:

"Keep the good things at Buena Vista Park," published in the Santa Maria Times, May 6, 2016

"Use consensus to rejuvenate city parks," published in the Santa Maria Times, June 17, 2016