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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 3rd, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 4 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 4

Barham oil field expansion gets go ahead from community


Drilling for oil on the Central Coast—or trying to—can prompt controversy, dissent, and heated debate. But that’s not the case this time around.

Oil’s well?
A drilling pad on the Barham Ranch oil field may soon get a new neighbor. Locals seemed fine with a 640-acre expansion.

A current conversation is revolving around a desire to expand the boundary lines of the Barham Ranch oil field southeast of Los Alamos to include 640 more acres of surface land. Pat Abel, deputy for district 3 of the California Department of Conservation Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, explains the potential move as an accounting and accountability measure for the state.

“The boundary is to indicate where the oil resource is,” Abel said.

As it stands now, the Barham Ranch oil field’s boundaries don’t account for all the oil in the petroleum pools 2,000 to 4,000 feet below ground. Santa Maria’s Sierra Resources Inc., the only oil production company drilling on the field, has been pulling oil from the other side of the boundary line since 2005.

This means that the pool of oil extends beyond the field’s current boundaries, and is therefore quantified and managed under two separate field names—one is Barham Ranch and the other is something known as the county field, which is one category that covers oil produced from all non-designated fields in the department’s district 3. The district covers Santa Barbara, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and parts of San Luis Obispo counties.

“Our quest, of course, is to unite [Barham Ranch], so to speak, to accurately depict the currently established productive limits of the oil field,” Abel told a small crowd of Los Alamos residents at a workshop on March 26. “It’s all a continuous resource, it’s all part of what’s being produced on the Barham field, so it makes sense to expand it.”

The workshop was a collaboration between the county and the state to inform residents about plans to expand the oil field, and allow them to voice objections or opinions and ask questions. Abel said the workshop was a successful one, and they will be moving ahead with the expansion process. The next stage—going before state and federal bodies for approval—could be a matter of mere months.

Residents who came to the workshop with concerns had no objections to the extension once their questions were answered. A big concern was water contamination; this isn’t an issue for Barham because the field climbs up the hillsides away from the valley floor, which means the oil pools don’t have groundwater above or below them, Abel said.

Sierra Resources operates 27 active wells on the field, and has worked Barham since 1983. Seven of the 27 wells are mining oil from outside of the boundary line.

Abel said the company can do that because it’s leased the mineral and land rights from the owner and has all its permits in order.

Directional drilling enables the wells to reach southeast of the boundary line and bring oil back to the surface within the field using diagonally drilled holes. Charlie Katherman, part owner of Sierra Resources, said there’s no need for hydraulic fracturing.

“The Monterey Shale formation in this county is already fractured by Mother Nature,” Katherman told concerned workshop attendees.

The seven beyond-the-boundary wells coagulate into one drilling pad at the edge of the current field boundary.

Katherman told the Sun he’s run out of room on that drilling pad and wants to stick another drilling pad on the land slated for the expansion. From that pad, Katherman thinks he can drill into the remainder of the pool and not “impact the property any more than necessary.”

Doug Adams from Santa Barbara County Planning and Development’s energy division said the county, state, and the producer are interested in “the better development of that resource.”

For the county, wise resource development means as little disturbance above ground as possible, while using the most effective—and regulated—way to drill for and pump oil out of the land.

Expanding the field boundary subjects it to the same set of field rules that regulates the Barham Ranch oil field.

Adams said bringing the land under the ranch’s field rules also streamlines the land-use application process for obtaining a drilling permit—as long as the long list of environmental, public health and safety, and drilling requirements is met.

Although the permitting process may be a bit easier for Sierra Resources Inc. in the future, Katherman made sure to explain that expanding the boundary doesn’t extend his company any special loopholes.

“This doesn’t give me any grandfathering,” Katherman said. “I still have to go through the process

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