A county planning report is recommending that an oil field proposed for the Huasna Valley be scaled back somewhat to minimize visual impacts.
The county has released its environmental impact report for the Excelaron oil project, which could result in as many as 12 wells being drilled in the rural Huasna Valley 12 miles east of Arroyo Grande.
The report recommends reducing the number of drilling pads from two to one as an environmentally superior alternative. The document identifies visuals, noise and odor as the main impacts.
County planners will hold an informational workshop on the project from 6 to 8 p.m. July 11 at the South County Regional Center, 800 W. Branch St. in Arroyo Grande. Public comments on the EIR are due Aug. 5. The project is expected to go before the county Planning Commission later this year.
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Eliminating the second pad would reduce the visual impacts of the project from Huasna Townsite Road. It may also force the company to reduce the number of wells that could be put on the site, said John McKenzie, county planner for the project.
Carol Florence, a planner hired by Excelaron, said the company is still reviewing the EIR. However, her initial reaction is that elimination of the second pad is unnecessary.
As proposed, the project would take up 2.2 acres. The company will institute a vegetation management plan that would screen the second pad from view after two to three years.
Residents of the Huasna Valley have raised numerous concerns about the project. Their main worry is that it will change the rural character of the valley.
“This project will turn Huasna Valley into another Price Canyon,” said Ron Skinner, spokesman for Huasna Valley Association, a group representing the approximately 200 residents of the valley.
Price Canyon, between San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach, is the site of the county’s only active oil field. Oil extraction equipment is readily visible from Price Canyon Road, and emissions of hydrogen sulfide regularly give the area a rotten-egg smell.
Excelaron will employ vapor recovery systems that are intended to prevent smelly emissions, Florence said. However, a failure of those systems “could create a significant odor event,” according to the EIR.
Noise is another significant impact. This would occur during drilling operations, which are expected to take place during periods of one to two weeks.
The company will use sound walls and barriers and equipment enclosures to dampen the noise, but the sound of drilling would remain a significant impact.
If approved as proposed, the oil field could produce as many as six truckloads, or 1,000 barrels, of oil a day.
It would be shipped on mostly private roads to Highway 166 and then on to an unspecified refinery.