SM Energy project before SB supervisors

Santa Maria Times, November 10, 2013 12:55 am, by

Santa Maria Energy’s proposal to drill 110 new wells in the state designated Orcutt oil field and use cyclical steam injection to extract crude will be discussed Tuesday by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors when it meets in Santa Maria.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the Betteravia Government Center, 511 E. Lakeside Parkway.

The supervisors will be discussing the project because its approval by the Planning Commission in September is being appealed by a host of environmental groups including the Environmental Defense Center, the legal lead organization, Get Oil Out!, Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club, Santa Barbara County Action Network and the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance.

The appeal focuses on the Planning Commission’s 3-2 decision to set a

greenhouse gas emission threshold of 29 percent above business-as-usual, a level nearly twice the state-mandated emission level of 16 percent. The environmental groups argue that the project should be held to a zero-GHG emissions level, or at the least the county should set a “bright line” greenhouse gas emissions threshold of 10,000 metric tons per year, which has been adopted by some other air quality management agencies around the state including the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and San Luis Obispo County APCD.

Santa Barbara County doesn’t currently have a hard and fast standard for stationary sources, which has left the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to consider each proposed project on a case-by-case basis.

“We’re looking for the board to reverse the action the Planning Commission took and to require that the greenhouse gas emissions either be fully mitigated or at least mitigated to the 10,000 tons (limit),” said Ken Hough, executive director of SBCAN, one of the appellant organizations. “SBCAN has never been opposed to the project. We’re just seeking full mitigation.”

The project includes 110 new wells added to a currently operating 26-well pilot project, a pipeline to connect it to a nearby refinery, an

8-mile long pipeline to the Laguna County Sanitation District for use of recycled wastewater in the steam generation process, and two steam generators.

At peak production, Santa Maria Energy estimates the generators will produce approximately 88,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. The company plans to use the recycled water and flare gas from its wells to produce the steam used in the extraction process.

The company says the project has been fully vetted by both the Energy Division of the county’s Planning and Development Department, and has gone through the California Environmental Quality Act process including having the greenhouse gas emissions portion of its Environmental Impact Report circulated for public review and comment twice.

The company also says the impacts of the project are fully mitigated according to Assembly Bill 32, the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act. Bob Poole, public and governmental affairs manager for the company, added that the Planning Commission’s September decision to hold the project to a 29-percent business-as-usual emissions threshold is twice as high as the state requirement.

“AB32 was fairly debated and enacted. It is the law. It is successful. CO2 has fallen every year. It defines fair share. Two-times fair share is double our fair share,” Poole noted. “We have not protested the county's decision to saddle us with two-times fair share because we respect the process run and understand that being a good neighbor sometimes requires going the extra mile.”

Santa Maria Energy also points to the economic benefits of the project that could create hundreds of direct and indirect jobs and bring in as much as $468,000 a day at peak production to the county.

No matter what decision the supervisors reach on Tuesday, there is a 30-day period in which the company or appellants can file a lawsuit against it.

Poole said the company would begin the process of getting its federal, state and local permits after any further action.

If it is approved, the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources would study where each of the company’s 110 wells would be drilled and the area surrounding them before any construction is begun.

Both sides feel their case is solid.

Hough said he was surprised when the Planning Commission voted to approve the greenhouse gas emissions EIR recirculation in September and thinks the board could find the appeal valid. If the supervisors agree with the commission, he said the appellants would consider further action.

Santa Maria Energy officials also think the time has finally come for their project to move forward. It has been in the planning process for more than three years.

“We don’t know how it’s going to go, but we hope we get a 5-0 vote,” Poole said. “We’re optimistic that the Board of Supervisors is going to do the right thing and that is to deny the appeal that is unfounded.”