Bakersfield oilman downsizes plan to drill in Huasna Valley

A Bakersfield-based company has applied to an drill exploratory gas and oil well on Porter Ranch near Alamo Road north of Highway 166 in Huasna Valley.
A Bakersfield-based company has applied to an drill exploratory gas and oil well on Porter Ranch near Alamo Road north of Highway 166 in Huasna Valley. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

In an effort to lessen concerns from Huasna Valley residents, a Bakersfield oilman has decided to drill only one exploratory oil and gas well on a property in southern San Luis Obispo County.

Dero Parker, president of Parker Companies Inc., filed an application in January seeking a permit to drill and test up to four wells on two existing pads on the Porter Ranch, a vast property that’s located off Alamo Creek Road north of Highway 166. It overlies the Monterey shale formation.

Parker said this week that he would drill just one well on one of the two pads on the property. No fracking is proposed.

“This is my strongest foot forward to try to prove to those opposed that we are doing everything we can to cooperate and be a good neighbor,” Parker said Tuesday.

But those neighbors — namely, residents of the remote Huasna Valley east of Arroyo Grande — still hold familiar concerns: that Parker’s project, coupled with other oil-related ventures, could change the character of their valley as well as the county.

“It’s important, instead of just taking one project at a time, (to) look at all of the projects and what does it mean for the county as a whole,” said Tracy Del Rio, president of the Huasna Foundation.

In a piece she recently co-authored for the local Sierra Club chapter’s newsletter with Linda Reynolds, chair of the Mesa Refinery Watch steering group, Del Rio called for a moratorium on all pending oil projects in the county until a comprehensive energy plan is debated and implemented.

Meanwhile, county project manager John McKenzie said that planners received Parker’s request to reduce his project Tuesday. They haven’t decided the level of environmental review needed for the project, but McKenzie said the revised plan would reduce potential impacts by 50 percent to 75 percent, depending on the issue.

The amount of water used during the temporary project would decrease, for example, by about 294,000 gallons (if all four wells had been drilled).

Parker estimated that about 98,000 gallons of water would be used per completed well. He also now plans to truck in the water, instead of using an irrigation well located within one mile from the drill site.

To reduce noise impacts to the nearest home, located about a half-mile away, Parker offered to pay for the residents to stay in a hotel while the well is drilled. He hopes a well could be drilled in 10 days or less.

“If they want to go to Santa Barbara and stay at the Four Seasons — I don’t care,” he said.

Parker, frustrated and discouraged, said he’s offered to meet with Huasna Valley residents but was rebuffed. Del Rio said residents are waiting for the county process to proceed and would respond at that time.

“Conducting meetings here and there doesn’t really work for us,” she said. “When we have to respond we’ll respond on paper.”

For his part, Parker said he’s already tried to ease concerns by studying noise, traffic, biological and other impacts of his proposal.

“We’re on a 4,000-acre ranch, pretty much smack dab in the middle in reality, there’s nothing there,” he said. “And it’s an operation that was once approved by this very county.”

Some work was performed under a county permit issued to Phillips Petroleum Co. in 1981 for 10 wells to drill and test for oil. Access roads already exist.

The drilling project area is 778 acres, but Parker has a five-year contract to lease mineral rights on the entire 4,068-acre property. Parker is managing the project; other investors include Canadian-based United Hunter Oil and Gas Corp.; XState Resources, an Australian public company focused on oil and gas exploration and development; and Sacgasco LLC.

The latter investor group is a subsidiary of Australian Oil Co. Ltd., which formed Excelaron in 2007. That oil company tried and failed in 2012 to get the county’s permission to drill as many as 12 oil wells in Huasna Valley.

If testing is successful and he wants to move toward production, Parker would have to apply for another permit from the county.

“It will be horrendous going forward, but if we prove the project is indeed potentially 10 million barrels of oil, then it’s worth going through the process,” Parker said. “The process primarily is mitigating all the concerns that those that live seven to 10 miles away have.”