Amid a packed house at the San Luis Obispo County supervisors chambers, the board acknowledged that there were too many uncertainties with PG&E’s proposed seismic testing to move forward this year.
On Oct. 30, the board—pointing out that it has no regulatory authority over the matter—unanimously voted to send a letter to the California Coastal Commission, who will decide whether to issue PG&E a necessary permit in mid-November.
Those sentiments were echoed by State Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo), who argued that eventual testing is necessary, but also admitted he shared the same concerns as the board.
Of the roughly 70 residents who spoke before the board, not one was in favor of commencing the testing this calendar year, citing unknown impacts to the local economy and local marine life.
The overwhelming majority of speakers was concerned about the wildlife issue, despite reassurances by PG&E reps that unprecedented monitoring programs were in place to mitigate such impacts. PG&E Spokesman Blair Jones explained a number of these measures to New Times, including a 3.8-mile, 160 decibel “safety zone” around the surveying vessel; a 1.2-mile “exclusion zone,” which would halt testing; the employment of spotter aircraft; a team of on-board observers; and conducting the surveys during a “low fish larvae period,” among others.
Though the board said PG&E failed to satisfy a set of concerns it expressed in August, a few of the supervisors said the potential for harassment of marine life was among the least of their reservations with the project, adding that the possibility of those impacts has been over-exaggerated.
“I think the most dire descriptions of what seismic testing will do are just not realistic,” Supervisor Bruce Gibson said. “I understand that they come from a deep passion for the ocean … but some people have taken their interpretation of those impacts too far.”
Among the board’s concerns are whether the National Science Foundation’s academic vessel expected to do the testing is up to snuff with the most modern technology that will yield the most useful information.
The Coastal Commission is scheduled to decide whether to issue a permit to get the project started this year at its Nov. 14 meeting in Santa Monica.
“There are those who would argue, ‘Don’t do the testing ever,’” Supervisor Adam Hill said. “I want to make it clear we are not abandoning our long-held [stance] that we are still advocating for the long-term safety of the plant.”