- FILE PHOTO BY HENRY BRUINGTON
Dero Parker is frustrated. He’s frustrated by the community resistance he didn’t really expect, and frustrated by a permitting environment he’s not used to. Mostly though, he said it’s the high bar that’s been set for his proposed oil-drilling project that frustrates him.
“I don’t have the financial wherewithal to fight a group like the [Huasna Foundation],” Parker told New Times. “They’ve got pretty good money behind them, but what I can do is go to a big oil company and see if they’d like to take over the project.”
Parker added that such an option is not at all likely, but more of a last resort. But he reiterated how disenchanted he’s become while attempting to get a permit to drill as many as four oil wells on two pads at the Porter Ranch just south of the Huasna Valley area. In fact, Parker recently asked to reduce the project scope significantly, with a new plan to drill only one test well. If that well can produce without the need for “artificial stimulation” such as steam injection or hydraulic fracturing, Parker said he’d submit another application for a full-fledged project.
If the initial drilling operation negatively impacts the sole nearby property owner, Parker said he’s offered to put that property owner up in a hotel.
As of press time, county officials had officially accepted the project application and were in the process of determining the necessary environmental review. Additionally, Parker said he was told to meet with the Huasna Foundation, a collection of residents who recently banded together to fight oil expansion in the rural valley. When Parker requested a meeting, he said Huasna Foundation members effectively told him to “pound sand” and “that they were going to do everything they could to make us go through a full-blown [environmental impact report].”
Such a report would delay the project by several years and likely cost tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I’m not looking for sympathy but I am a little angry that we’ve tried to do everything right,” he said. “I’ve never been through a process where people, in my opinion, are so unreasonable.”
However, the members of the Huasna Foundation didn’t refuse a meeting, said Huasna Foundation President Tracy Del Rio. Instead, they declined to meet before hearing what the county has to say.
“We don’t want to have a meeting that just ends up rehashing the issues again,” Del Rio said. “And we want to wait for the county process to happen.”
Indeed, Del Rio was unaware that Parker and county officials had agreed to reduce the project scope, and said Parker’s representative, Christine Halley of TJ Cross Engineers, failed to mention the change when she requested a meeting. Regardless, Huasna Foundation members are leery because they’ve seen it all before, Del Rio said. The foundation was instrumental in fighting Excelaron’s proposed drilling project—which was denied at the county level and is currently on appeal in a state appeals court—at the Mankins Ranch, north of Parker’s proposed project.
While both projects differ in size, they share the same investors, including Australian Oil Company and United Hunter Oil and Gas. In fact, the lease-rights holder on the Porter Ranch project, Alamo Creek Oil, is a company founded by Carol Florence of Oasis Associates in San Luis Obispo; Art Halleran, formerly of United Hunter Oil and Gas in Calgary, Alberta; and Andrew Childs of Australian Oil Company in Sydney.
“These projects are just a repeat in a way,” Del Rio said. “Although smaller, this is almost the same sort of pattern that Excelaron did.”