Thursday, January 27, 2022     Volume: 22, Issue: 48

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 12th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 15 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 15

Public opinion split on Cat Canyon aquifer exemption


Hundreds of people filled the Santa Maria Veterans Memorial Building on June 5 to voice their opinion on a proposed aquifer exemption that would expand the area in Cat Canyon where oil companies can build injection wells.

Some environmental activists and students pushed back on the proposal during the hearing, while some local ranchers and labor unions encouraged the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to move the exemption forward. DOGGR and other state agencies are considering recommending that the Environmental Protection Agency approve the expansion. 

In a presentation prior to the public comment portion of the hearing, DOGGR engineer Jeff Kimber said the exemption meets federal requirements because the water in the proposed aquifer doesn’t serve as drinking water now and will not in the future. Additionally, he said, natural barriers would prevent fluids injected into the proposed exemption area from traveling to shallow freshwater aquifers that are used for drinking water and agricultural activities.

“There are hundreds of feet of confining features between the water wells and the aquifer proposed for exemption,” Kimber said. 

This explanation didn’t satisfy numerous commenters who voiced concerns about oil and gas projects possibly contaminating the water supply. Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney Lauren Packard was one of the many opponents who spoke against the exemption while citing data from a preliminary U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study of the Orcutt oil field that found oil-related substances in some water wells in and near the field.

“The oil companies have not shown that their injections won’t contaminate the groundwater,” Packard said. “Steam injection wells and injection disposal wells create pathways for vertical and lateral contamination.”

Wendy Motta, a representative from U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal’s (D-Santa Barbara) office said the USGS plans to conduct a study in Cat Canyon similar to the one in Orcutt. She said Carbajal believes the exemption shouldn’t be considered until after the Cat Canyon study is complete.

Ben Oakley, a representative from Pacific Coast Energy Company, which operates wells in Orcutt, pushed back on the usage of this preliminary study because the results aren’t official yet. He said oil and gas operations have taken place in Orcutt for more than a century without any major incidents. 

Local labor union representatives also spoke in favor of the exemption and the possible jobs future oil projects in Cat Canyon could create for Santa Maria residents. Additionally, some ranchers—like Roy Reed, who owns two ranches where oil and gas companies operate wells—spoke in favor of the exemption. 

“I am happy to say both ranches have had mineral production,” Reed said. “Both ranches still have water of very high quality in all of our wells.”

Residents who were unable to attend the meeting can submit written comments on the proposal through June 20 at People can also submit comments through the mail to the Department of Conservation’s office in Sacramento.

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