For many residents in the Huasna Valley, a recent county recommendation to deny an oil-drilling proposal is a sweet victory after years spent fighting Excelaron.
On Feb. 10, San Luis Obispo County planning staffers made a recommendation to the county Planning Commission to deny Excelaron’s application to drill as many as a dozen wells in the rural Huasna area, east of Arroyo Grande. The recommendation is almost a complete 180-degree turn from the original staff recommendations made more than four years ago, when Excelaron was pursuing its initial application for a smaller project in 2007 to drill for oil on Howard Mankins’ ranch. At the time, county planners gave the project a negative declaration—virtually an environmental free pass—rather than a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The most recent incarnation of the project was put through a full EIR, and now county planners believe the project application should be completely denied.
- FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
“The Huasna Valley residents applaud the county Planning Staff’s recommendation for denial of this project,” Huasna Valley Association President Ron Skinner said in a news release.
Skinner told New Times the new recommendation for denial is vindication for the group of Huasna residents, farmers, and ranchers who’ve spent years opposing a drilling operation in their corner of the county. But Skinner added that the group plans to hammer its points against the project to county planning commissioners at the scheduled Feb. 23 hearing.
Commissioners will weigh in on the application—which proposes four test wells in an initial phase of drilling, followed by another eight wells if the first prove successful—and the environmental impacts to visual resources, noise, fire, flooding, traffic, air quality, and other impacts outlined in the EIR.
“Staff cannot recommend any overriding considerations to overcome the significant and unavoidable environmental impacts of the proposed project,” staffers wrote in their recommendation to the Planning Commission.
Excelaron is is under the auspices of Canada-based United Hunter Oil & Gas Corp., which purchased the project after it was parceled out and sold off from its original owner, Australian Oil Company.
Carol Florence, a principal planner with Oasis Associates and a project spokeswoman, told New Times, “Excelaron feels vindicated by the Final EIR that the proposed project can be accomplished in a technically and environmentally safe manner. With the noted mitigation measures, the oversight by the County and State agencies, and the commitment of Excelaron to the neighborhood and community, we are of course disappointed by the staff recommendation and the factually flawed and misleading statements contained in the staff report.”
Huasna Valley Association members have long raised suspicions that Excelaron’s project could eventually expand beyond the 12 wells the company is proposing. Excelaron has assured that it only plans to drill as many as 12 wells, but statements to investors seem to have indicated otherwise in the past.
The project EIR outlines a number of alternatives, including proposals to move the operation, remove one of the two drilling pads, or the “no project” alternative.