Excelaron's oil drilling proposal for Huasna Valley is denied

Excelaron proposed oil drilling at sites on the second ridge behind the Mankins Ranch in the Huasna Valley east of Arroyo Grande.
Excelaron proposed oil drilling at sites on the second ridge behind the Mankins Ranch in the Huasna Valley east of Arroyo Grande. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

County supervisors unanimously denied plans Tuesday to drill for oil in the remote Huasna Valley, settling a highly contentious land-use debate.

The supervisors’ chambers erupted in applause when the board voted down the project, bringing five years of controversy to a close. The oil exploration company Excelaron had been seeking permission to drill as many as 12 oil wells in the rustic valley 10 miles east of Arroyo Grande.

“This is not the right project for the Huasna Valley,” said Supervisor Paul Teixeira, whose district includes the valley. He added that this was one of the hardest decisions he’s had to make while on the board.

The other supervisors shared Teixeira’s concern that an oil field is incompatible with the rural and isolated valley. Other worries were the increased fire danger, traffic, safety and noise.

Carol Florence, planner for Excelaron, said she had “no idea” what, if any, action the oil company would take next. The fact that the county found the oil field incompatible with the area would likely preclude any similar proposal, she said.

Excelaron asked supervisors to delay a final decision while they considered a new company proposal that would have reduced the noise impacts of the project.

Whitney McDonald, deputy county counsel, said the law does not preclude Excelaron from resubmitting the amended proposal as a new project or submitting a proposal for a new project at a nearby location and accessing the oil using horizontal drilling. Several supervisors said they are not against oil drilling as long as it is done appropriately.

Florence has been critical of the Planning Commission for denying the project without considering any alternatives. She also complained that the supervisors would be “inefficient and unfair” in denying the company due process by turning down its request for a delay.

Supervisor Jim Patterson disagreed, saying, “I think that this has been very well vetted.”

The Excelaron project pitted residents of the Huasna Valley, who wanted to protect their quality of life, against mineral-rights owners, who said they should have the ability to exercise those rights. Opponents also said approval of the project could start a new wave of oil speculation in the county.In the end, the many voices against the project held sway.

“We have said, ‘Enough,’ ” said Ron Skinner with the Huasna Foundation, a group formed to oppose the Excelaron project.