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Aera Energy plans for Cat Canyon oil drilling wells meets opposition

Plans by an energy company to reduce the number of oil drilling wells in a proposed Cat Canyon project received mostly negative reaction from some local environmental groups.

Aera Energy is seeking county approval to drill wells for oil extraction, and announced Friday it was lowering the count from a proposed 296 wells down to 185, a 36% reduction.

Company management said the change was made after listening to environmental concerns raised by Santa Barbara County groups and residents.

“This means we are listening to their concerns. We are learning about innovative technologies on how to solve those problems. We are improving our drilling and our well construction standards,” said Rick Rust, Aera Energy project manager.

Rust said reducing the number of wells will create environmental benefits

“It’s going to reduce impact to habitat. It’s going to reduce gas emissions. It’s going to reduce fresh water usage. It’s going to reduce visual impact,” Rust said.

In statements emailed Saturday, some environmental groups blasted Aera Energy’s efforts.

“Aera, owned by Exxon and Shell, is pulling out all the stops to try to get their massively polluting project approved. Aera has been successfully sued for polluting groundwater in Kern County, and its parent companies are among the most responsible for climate-damaging emissions in the world. The impacts of this project far outweigh any benefit,” said Katie Davis, Los Padres Sierra Club Chairwoman.

“We have been raising concerns about the oil industry’s impacts on our groundwater for several years,” said Santa Barbara County Action Network Executive Director Kevin Hough. “Almost 200 wells will still cause significant and unavoidable impacts on our groundwater that were identified in the environmental impact report,” Hough said.

A staff attorney for the Environmental Defense Center representing both environmental groups said the goal remains to convince county leaders to deny the entire project. “Aera’s proposal changes nothing and does not distract us from the real threats,” said Tara Messing. “The project must be denied to protect our air, water, and climate,” she said.

Ron Lovell of Santa Maria Valley Open Space said he values the environment, but also understands the need for energy.

“We need people to pull it out of the ground in a responsible way and have a track record of doing it the right way,” Lovell said. “For them to decrease the oil count shows how willing they are to work with the county. I hope people will be pragmatic and reasonable and understand that we do need them in the community. We need these resources,” Lovell said.

“Our hope is to continue to be a valued community partner. In doing that we’re going to supply jobs, economic growth, environmental protection and continued prosperity in the Santa Barbara communities,” Rust said.

A county planning commission hearing on the project is planned next year, when staff members will review Aera Energy’s updated report. Members of the public will also be given the opportunity to comment.

KEYT 2019

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