Two oil projects proposed in the Huasna Valley will pass major milestones within the same week, setting the course for drilling operations in the South County.
The Second Appellate District court of California is scheduled to hold a hearing May 30 on a case brought by Excelaron, a company that unsuccessfully proposed to drill as many as a dozen wells on the Mankins ranch in the Huasna Valley, east of Arroyo Grande.
Five days after that hearing, applicants for the Porter Ranch project are scheduled to submit additional information on their project, which aims to drill as many as four exploratory wells on Porter Ranch about 5 miles south of Excelaron’s proposed project.
Though both projects are distinct in terms of geography and applicants, they carry the same financial backers, most notably Australian Oil Company and United Hunter Oil and Gas.
The Excelaron project, which first entered the public fray in 2008, underwent an extensive and heated application process, which culminated in a denial from county planning commissioners that was later ratified by county supervisors in 2012. The applicants filed a lawsuit, but their case was tossed based on a missed filing deadline.
Excelaron subsequently appealed, arguing in legal briefs to the appellate court that it didn’t miss a deadline to file and serve its complaint, as the county contends.
If the court finds in favor of Excelaron, the company would be allowed to argue in SLO County Superior Court that the project was unfairly denied, barring Excelaron from drawing as much as $100,000 per day in profits from oil extraction. Furthermore, a win for Excelaron could result in two concurrent drilling applications near the Huasna area.
Bakersfield-based applicant Dero Parker submitted plans on Jan. 16 of this year to drill up to four exploratory wells on Porter Ranch. County planning officials asked for additional information, with more than 20 questions that focused on such issues as truck travel and potential impacts to groundwater. Parker and Christine Halley of TJ Cross Engineers asked for and were granted an extension to respond, with answers now due on June 4.
“We had to get a 15-day extension to complete a noise study as well as do an updated species study,” Parker said in an email to New Times. “Wasn’t required but felt [it was] money well spent.”
In the months since the project was first discussed in front of the South County Advisory Council on March 24, residents and members of the Huasna Foundation have raised additional issues. Several residents allege that existing roads and well pads on the property violate the conditions put in place when Phillips 66 first eyed the property for drilling in the 1980s (the company ultimately abandoned its project). County Senior Environmental Planner John McKenzie told New Times his staff was researching the issue.