Issue: Energy


Santa Barbara County Fracking

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a process used to extract oil or natural gas from shale and other deep geologic formations. Fracking is under intense scrutiny nationally, and fracked wells with poor construction have been linked to groundwater contamination and other environmental impacts. In California, it is the responsibility of local governments, alongside the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), Regional Water Quality Control Boards and other state agencies, to regulate oil and gas production.

Background: Venoco fracked two wells near Los Alamos in 2011, spurring the County to “clarify” its Land Use & Development Code to specifically require (discretionary) permits and environmental review for any proposal to frack. There has been no fracking in Santa Barbara County since. However, fracking continues to be of concern in neighboring jurisdictions (for example, Ventura and Kern Counties), statewide and even offshore.

A group called the Water Worriers recently completed gathering signatures for the Healthy Air and Water Initiative which would ban fracking and other well stimulation techniques in Santa Barbara County. The group was successful in gathering the 13,000 signatures required to place the initiative on the ballot in November. Most environmental groups, including the Valley Alliance, have endorsed the measure.

Status: On May 20, the Board of Supervisors held a hearing on the item and requested preparation of a report to address economic, planning and other issues. The report was presented to the Board on June 13, at which time the Board placed the measure on the 2014
November ballot.


Onshore Drilling from VAFB into the Tranquillon Ridge Field

In January, 2007 (during the Tranquillon II permitting process), Sunset Exploration, with partners Exxon/Mobil, submitted an application to the County for the Vahevala Project, an onshore slant drilling alternative to drill and process the oil from Vandenberg AFB. The application was found incomplete due to the lack of consent from the property owner, US Air Force. The Air Force sent a letter on April 28, 2008 indicating that any access and use of the base would require a competitive bid. The US Air Force sent another letter on June 25, 2008 indicating that Sunset/Exxon’s proposed location would present a wide range of significant operational constraints. Congressman John Garamendi sent a letter to VAFB in December 2011, asking the Base to reconsider.

Status: On July 17, 2013, the Air Force announced its plans to prepare an Opportunity Assessment (OA) to review the possibility of drilling from a location on VAFB into the Tranquillon Ridge field. The OA was to consider constraints related to the Base’s mission, environmental impacts, political ramifications, etc. Several environmental groups expressed their concerns to the Air Force in a conference call and EDC followed up with a written confirmation of those concerns. The OA is not a public process and the document will not be made public. The Air Force released an Executive Summary of its decision in May 2014 and is now taking steps to look at the possibility of drilling from VAFB.M/p>

Santa Maria Energy Cyclic Steam Injection Proposal

Santa Maria Energy proposes to develop a lease located between Orcutt and Lompoc using the process known as “cyclic steam injection.”

Background: Santa Maria Energy operates an existing 32-acre site with 26 “pilot” wells; this project would add an additional 110 wells on-site. The project would produce oil using a large-scale steam injection operation. Steam injection technology is one of a suite of “enhanced oil recovery” (EOR) techniques, which also includes hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and acid stimulation. Steam injection uses large amounts of fresh water to “soak” and heat oil-bearing diatomaceous earth formations, thereby coaxing a more ready flow of hydrocarbons into company production wells. EOR activities have been known to create localized impacts such as groundwater contamination, earthquakes and subsidence, and exacerbated onshore oil seeps and sinkholes. The Project would remove up to 62 oak trees and destroy nearly 16 acres of California tiger salamander habitat, and it would emit more than 87,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases per year at peak production. Other projects in Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County and other neighboring jurisdictions, are considered to be “significant” emitters at 10,000 MTCO2e/yr or less. The County has proposed to limit Santa Maria Energy’s emissions by roughly 30 percent. That approach will only address a portion of the Project’s impacts in the first 8 of 50 years of its expected life. It is critical that the EIR address (and mitigate) all of the Project’s impacts for the entirety of its operations. A Draft EIR was released in 2012, and a proposed Final EIR was made available at the beginning of 2013. The County Planning Commission held two hearings in April and May, and ultimately ordered staff to revise the EIR to better address GHG emissions.

A revised EIR was released on July 15, 2013, and on September 25th, the Planning Commission voted 3-2 to set the threshold of significance for GHG emissions at 29% below business as usual (resulting in approximately 60,000 MTCO2e/yr) rather than the zero emission (or 10,000 MTCO2e/yr) requested by environmental groups.

Status: On October 4th, the EDC appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to the Board of Supervisors. On 11-12-13, the BOS supported the appeal and set the threshold for analyzing impacts from GHGs at 10,000 metric tons per year. The County APCD is moving forward with an offset program and the Planning Department will now begin the process of set the new GHG emission thresholds under CEQA. The Planning Commission added this task to the P and D Workplan as a future short term item and the BOS approved the PC recommendation. Funding decisions will be made during the budget process in June. The APCD is also considering adoption of a GHG emission threshold for stationary projects under its jurisdiction. Workshops were held in May and comments are due June 5, 2014.