Comment period extended for Price Canyon oil field injection area expansion

New information and intense public interest have prompted California officials to open another 15-day public comment period for a proposal to more than triple the allowable groundwater injection area beneath the Price Canyon oil field.

The new deadline is Dec. 15. No public meeting is scheduled, and only written comments will be accepted.

In August, the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources proposed significantly expanding the area beneath the oil field into which steam and wastewater can be injected. The proposal has garnered intense public concern that the expansion would endanger nearby drinking water wells.

A public meeting in September attracted about 100 people, with the majority opposing the proposal. The outcry prompted the agency to update its proposal with more information and offer the new public comment period, said Don Drysdale, spokesman for the state Department of Conservation.

“We think there are very legitimate reasons to allow this, but people are concerned, and we want the public to have sufficient information,” Drysdale said.

The new information in the proposal includes an updated six-page explanation of why state officials think the expansion is justifiable, as well as a map showing the location of more than 30 drinking water wells in the immediate vicinity of the oil field.

In their updated explanation, state officials cite several reasons the expansion should be approved, which are very similar to those originally given: The aquifer beneath the oil field cannot serve as a drinking water source because it contains oil and natural gas, and the injection of fluids will not damage the quality of any water that may be put to a beneficial use, such as supplying drinking water, because geologic features beneath the oil field keep injected fluids contained within it.

State officials are still evaluating whether to formally submit the proposed expansion to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which will make the final decision. No date has been set for making that final decision, Drysdale said.

Comments may be submitted by email to comments@conservation.ca.gov.

The aquifer proposal is one of three pending expansions at the oil field.

The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission recently approved a request by oil field owner, Freeport McMoRan Oil and Gas of Phoenix, to drill an additional 31 wells at the field that were originally approved in 2005. That decision has been appealed to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.

The oil company has also applied for permits to drill an additional 450 wells as part of a new phase of production at the oil field. That application is on hold until the aquifer expansion issue is decided.

The Price Canyon oil field, also known as the Arroyo Grande oil field, is halfway between San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach on Price Canyon Road. It currently produces about 1,000 barrels of oil a day.