The environmental group Center for Biological Diversity has appealed a San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission decision that approved 31 new wells over the next three years at the Price Canyon oil field.
The Tucson, Ariz.-based group said the appeal to the county Board of Supervisors, filed Wednesday, is based on the fact that the environmental analysis of the possible danger the new wells would pose to nearby drinking water wells is a decade old.
Earlier this year, the 2005 permit held by oil company Freeport-McMoRan Oil and Gas to drill the wells expired, and the oil company applied to have it extended an additional three years.
“It’s unsafe and irresponsible to renew the expired permit to drill these wells based on a cursory environmental review that is 10 years old,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, an attorney with the environmental group. “The county must protect people’s water supplies from oil industry pollution.”
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The group wants supervisors to require that Freeport-McMoRan either do a supplemental environmental review or include the 31 wells in an ongoing environmental review of plans by the oil company to add an additional 450 new wells as part of a significant future expansion of the oil field.
It’s unsafe and irresponsible to renew the expired permit to drill these wells based on a cursory environmental review that is 10 years old. The county must protect people’s water supplies from oil industry pollution.
Maya Golden-Krasner, an attorney with Center for Biological Diversity
Currently, 238 wells produce 1,000 barrels of oil a day at the oil field, also called the Arroyo Grande oil field, which is located halfway between San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach on Price Canyon Road. Steam is injected into the ground to thin the oil and make it easier to pump. Oil-tainted water is pumped back underground to dispose of it.
Oil company executives and state water officials say the oil field operation does not pose a threat to nearby drinking water wells because various geologic barriers separate the oil field from adjacent drinking water aquifers.
“All of the scientific and geologic data prepared relative to the Arroyo Grande oil field validates that the injection operations are occurring within a confined geologic structure and do not pose a risk to the surrounding region,” said John Martini, Freeport-McMoRan’s director of governmental affairs. “The fact that the center’s arguments try to conveniently ignore science does not change the fact that operations at the oil field have been ongoing for nearly 100 years with no evidence of impact to the surrounding area.”
On Nov. 12, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the request for 31 new wells after state water officials assured them it was safe. However, the commission required that Freeport-McMoRan install sentry wells around the oil field and conduct water-well testing if requested by neighbors.
The fact that the center’s arguments try to conveniently ignore science does not change the fact that operations at the oil field have been ongoing for nearly 100 years with no evidence of impact to the surrounding area.
John Martini, Freeport-McMoRan’s director of governmental affairs
At three lengthy Planning Commission hearings, neighbors of the oil field said they are concerned about groundwater contamination. About 100 drinking water wells are within a mile of the oil field.
“County officials have to rein in the dangerous plan to expand the oil field before irreparable damage is done,” Golden-Krasner said. “Once water supplies are polluted, it’ll be too late.”
No date has been set for the Board of Supervisors to hear the appeal.