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.