The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decided that 575 acres of aquifer underlying Price Canyon should be exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, ending the limbo that Sentinel Peak Resources has been in since it purchased Freeport McMoRan's local oil drilling operation in 2016.
Freeport McMoRan applied for an aquifer exemption in the Arroyo Grande Oil Field in 2015, after the California Department of Conservation discovered that thousands of permitted injection/re-injection wells in the state, including some in Price Canyon, were actually being drilled into aquifers that were covered under the Safe Drinking Water Act. In an April 30, 2019, letter to the State Oil and Gas Supervisor, the EPA stated that the portions of the oil field covered by the application don't currently serve as a source of drinking water and won't in the future, "because they have been demostrated to contain commercially producible quantities of hydrocarbon."
Charles Varni—who works with the SLO Surfrider Foundation and spearheaded the effort to pass Measure G, which would have banned future oil and gas drilling in the county—said that SLO Surfrider is disappointed in the EPA's decision.
"The Price Canyon oil field has some of the dirtiest oil on Earth and we cannot [allow it] to expand production of it and pour its toxic gases into the atmosphere," Varni said in an email.
Sentinel Peak Resources, on the other hand, is pleased with the decision. Director of Regulatory Affairs Christine Halley indicated in an email that the oil company is eyeing the remaining 31 oil wells left to drill on a 95-well project already approved by the county.
"Following months of proactive dialogue with the state agencies, federal agencies, and the public, this determination gives reassurance that oil and gas production continues without impact to the region's drinking water," Halley wrote to New Times. "With this determination in hand, the Arroyo Grande Oil Field will continue to support 80 to 100 full-time, well-paying jobs for the San Luis Obispo community. ... As part of doing so, we will keep all options open, including completion of the latest approved development plan." Δ