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SB County Draft EIR on Cat Canyon oil drilling project

Santa Barbara County’s Planning and Development Department has released a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on a proposal by Aera Energy to expand oil and gas production in the Cat Canyon oil fields southeast of Santa Maria.

Aera Energy proposed its East Cat Canyon drilling project more than four years ago.

The project calls for nearly 300 wells to either be redeveloped or drilled in the century-old Cat Canyon oil field southeast of the Santa Maria Valley.

“It’s been there for a hundred years”, said Aera Energy spokesperson Rick Rust, “with the new drilling technologies we’re able to use existing pads to reach the same oil and recover more oil and lessen our impact on the environment.”

Aera Energy is proposing to use steam injection to remove the heavy crude oil with a peak production estimated at 10,000 barrels a day.

No hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will be involved in the project.

Aera Energy says it will create hundreds of good paying jobs and generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue for Santa Barbara County over the life of the project.

The company says a report by the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project indicates the East Cat Canyon drilling project will result in more than $1 billion in local economic activity.

Aera Energy says an alternative footprint has been developed that leaves roughly 94% of the project site undisturbed by development, including a 500-acre permanent Conservation Area.

The company says the reduced footprint has also greatly minimized the number of oak trees to be removed to about 1% of the oak trees on the project site.

Aera’s East Cat Canyon drilling project faces opposition from neighboring property owners and local environmental groups.

“We have been able to reach out to some of the neighbors and many of the folks that do oppose us”, Rust said, “we want to make it clear that we are committed to protecting people and the environment, those are values that are near and dear to Aera Energy.”

The release of the Draft EIR by the County begins a two month public comment period on the East Cat Canyon drilling project with a public meeting scheduled in Santa Maria in mid-January.

Here’s part of the opening declaration in the County’s Draft EIR for the East Cat Canyon project:

“The Project will re-establish oil production in an existing oil field by implementing a thermal enhanced oil recovery process. Project plans include construction and restoration of approximately 72 well pads, construction and restoration of over nine miles of field access roads, and drilling of up to 296 wells. Planned wells include oil/gas production wells, steam injection wells, observation wells, non-potable water production wells, water injection wells, and fresh groundwater wells. No hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) would be used for this Project.”

The Draft EIR can be found on the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development website at:

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