Proposal for oil wells in Huasna Valley heads down tough road


It’s going to be an uphill climb for an oil company that wants to drill as many as 12 oil wells in the Huasna Valley.

County planners are recommending that the project be denied. An environmental impact report recommends a significantly scaled-back project as a better alternative.

The project will get its first hearing before the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission on Feb. 23. As many as four hearings could be needed before the commission is ready to make a decision.

The oil company Excelaron proposes pumping as much as 1,000 barrels of oil a day out of the Mankins Ranch in the Huasna Valley 12 miles east of Arroyo Grande.

The facility would consist of two well pads and a shipping center that would fill as many as six tanker trucks a day.

The project has met with resistance from some residents of the Huasna Valley concerned about possible adverse impacts including traffic, noise and loss of the area’s rural character.

“The Huasna Valley residents applaud the county planning staff’s recommendation for denial of this project,” said Ron Skinner, who heads the Huasna Foundation, a group opposed to the project. “As stated in the final environmental impact report, the environmentally superior alternative to this project is no project.”

The report states that the project would have five main, unavoidable impacts. They are aesthetics, air quality, noise, land-use incompatibility and biological damage in the event of a spill.

Short of outright denying the project, planning staff recommends eliminating one of the two well pads as the next best alternative. The pad to be eliminated would be the most visible from Huasna Townsite Road and the closest to a nearby residence.

Eliminating the second well pad could reduce the amount of oil available to the project by as much as two-thirds, said Carol Florence, the project’s planner with Oasis Associates of San Luis Obispo.

Many of the impacts would be short-term and limited to drilling operations, and the visual impacts could be minimized by screening the well pad with vegetation, she said. The company initiated 144 mitigations to lessen the effects of the project.

“As important to the company are the benefits to the community in the form of 35 head-of-household jobs, nearly 100 construction jobs and more than $370,000 in yearly tax revenue to the county’s general fund,” she said.

To sweeten the deal, Excelaron has offered to pay $1 per barrel of oil into a fund that will pay for the installation of solar power in schools in the county. If the project went into full production, $365,000 a year would go into the fund.