Excelaron oil well plan for Huasna Valley likely to get cash infusion

Plans to drill as many as 12 oil wells in the Huasna Valley are scheduled to go before the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission in February.

In the meantime, the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is expected to allocate an additional $57,000 to complete an environmental review of the project. The extra money is needed because the project generated 650 comments from the public — four times as many as expected.

“A large number of comments are very detailed and will require additional research and analysis in order to develop adequate responses,” said John Peirson, a principal with Marine Research Specialists, consultants hired to prepare the project’s environmental impact report.

Oil company Excelaron is proposing the project and is paying the cost of the environmental impact report, which is expected to total nearly $428,000. The company is willing to pay the additional $57,000 in order to get a legally defensible project, said Carol Florence, the project’s planner.

John McKenzie, county planner for the project, expects the final environmental report to be published by the end of the year. Starting Feb. 23, a total of four hearings before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors are expected.

The site of the project is the Mankins Ranch, 12 miles east of Arroyo Grande in the Huasna Valley. The first phase of the project would be exploration to determine exactly how much oil is in the ground.

“This is really more an evaluation than an exploration because we know the oil is there,” Florence said.

Project geologist Arthur Halleran estimates that nearly 100 million barrels of oil lie beneath the valley, of which 2 million to 4 million barrels would be recoverable. Heavy oil of this type, which is the consistency of honey, fetches about $70 per barrel.

That means the field could yield $280 million worth of oil. If the project goes into full production, as many as six truckloads or 1,000 barrels of oil a day could be produced.

However, the project has provoked stiff resistance from some of the valley’s 200 residents. Their concerns include noise, odor, truck traffic and changes in the rural character of the valley.