Huasna Valley lies east of Arroyo Grande, a half-hour down winding, oak-canopied Huasna Road, which is the only paved way in or out. The area has long been known to have oil, but for decades deposits have not been extracted.
Now that may change.
With the price of petroleum skyrocketing, dormant oil fields all over the state are being looked at anew and Huasna is among the latest sites to be eyed, whether the neighbors like it or not.
A fledgling oil exploration company, Excelaron, has applied for a series of permits with the county to explore three existing wells in the area, drill a new one, and perhaps resurrect the historic oil operations. Excelaron has an office in San Luis Obispo but has ties to a larger Australian company.
The site has seen at least three failed attempts at extracting sweet light crude since the late 1800s but it has been abandoned since the mid-1980s.
Neighbors are concerned about the prospect of operations picking up again.
On May 21, Huasna community members filed into the multi-purpose room of Paulding Middle School to hear company representatives and a county planner talk about the latest project. They were told plans could include four producing wells, a shipping facility, and that the project could lead to an average of 12 daily trips by oil trucks on the rural road.
The proposed site is fairly isolated, so noise and lights are not expected to be an issue, but traffic is. During the construction phase, there will be up to 78 additional car trips, according to Excelaron’s traffic study.
“I’m concerned about a lot of things,” Anna Gabriel said. Gabriel’s home is near the proposed trucking site. “Number one,” she went on, “is the road. There is only one way in, and one way out of Huasna. And Huasna Townsite Road [the only paved connection between the proposed site and the main road] is a one-lane road. It’s narrow and windy and all the traffic is going to have go down it....”
“My biggest concern though,” Gabriel went on, “is that we know where it starts. Where does it end?”
A 1980 environmental impact report, completed the last time a company got the notion to drill out there, confirms her concern. It notes that the road is not wide enough for two large vehicles, such as a school bus and an agricultural vehicle, to cross at the same time. The report goes on to say that the risk of accidents will increase with more truck traffic, and there is no way to reduce the risk entirely.
It’s possible there will be no EIR this time around. Arroyo Grande city officials had threatened to demand one, but in a recent letter to county planners, said they believe their concerns can be addressed through a less rigid process called the “Mitigated Negative Declaration.”
A representative for Excelaron was not available for comment as of press time. According to their website, the tiny company keeps an office for its three employees in downtown SLO. A Sydney-based company with oil prospects in East Timor, Southern Australia, and Western Australia—none of which seems to be producing any oil—owns close to 50 percent of Excelaron. That outfit, the Australian Oil Company (AOC), shares a board member, Grant Jagelman, with Excelaron.
Jagelman was quoted in an Australian investment magazine saying the company was negotiating the mineral rights to 3,000 acres in Huasna. Based on mapping and historical data, he said, “Our consultants have advised that there is a potential for recoverable resources of up to 20 million barrels of oil.”
John McKenzie of SLO County Planning Department said the county’s consideration of the company’s application could take as little as six months if an EIR isn’t required.