Oil drilling plan divides Huasna Valley residents

Speakers before county board are evenly split over company’s proposal to drill in South County

dsneed@thetribunenews.comMay 15, 2012 

More than 70 people weighed in Tuesday on whether oil drilling should be allowed in rural Huasna Valley.

San Luis Obispo County supervisors held a half-day hearing on the Excelaron oil project. Most of the day was spent on public comment, with the speakers evenly divided between those wanting to see the project move ahead and many residents of the valley who said oil drilling is inconsistent with the area’s remote rural character.

Supervisors made no decision and scheduled a second hearing date for Aug. 21, when a decision is expected. The Planning Commission denied the project in March, and the oil company Excelaron appealed the ruling to the Board of Supervisors.

The company has proposed drilling as many as 12 oil wells on the Mankins Ranch that would produce a maximum of 1,000 barrels a day. The Planning Commission found the project to be incompatible with the Huasna Valley, citing concerns about noise, aesthetics, odors, spills and fire danger.

In response, Excelaron says the project has been designed to minimize these impacts. The company offered a new alternative Tuesday that would shift activity away from a drilling pad that has the most noise and visual impacts.

Many supporters of the project wore stickers saying “Solar for Schools,” a reference to Excelaron’s offer to pay $1 per barrel of oil into a fund that would pay for installing solar panels in schools in the county. They said the project would create jobs and produce a commodity the country needs.

“I support this project and love the Huasna,” said John Porter, whose family owns the Porter Ranch adjacent to the oil project.

Many valley residents said they were opposed to the project and wore lapel pins with big red hearts. They said oil drilling would spoil the quiet rural character of the valley and would reduce the value of their property.

“Would you choose to be next to an oil field?” valley resident Diane Moody asked.

Fred Collins of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council said the country needs to move away from fossil fuels and protect areas like the Huasna Valley.

“This area is one of the most pristine in San Luis Obispo County,” he said. “It’s a cathedral.”

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