Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Locals blast oil drilling plan


Carpinteria citizens blasted a draft Environmental Impact Review of a proposed oil drilling project along the shore of the small coastal community, calling it flawed, severely understated and riddled with serious defects.
Officials from Venoco, Inc., the company that owns the current oil processing facility in Carpinteria and is proposing the expanded drilling project, said the document is adequate and even overstated in some aspects.

“We believe the consultants did a thorough job,” Veneco Spokesman Steve Greig said. He emphasized the benefit of increased royalties to the city and the lack of expected impacts on tourism.
However, more than 20 community members spoke out against the project at a public hearing at Carpinteria City Hall yesterday, including representatives from the Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs, the Environmental Defense Center, the Chumash Indian Council and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper.
As the Planning Commission and Environmental Review Committee listened, speakers outlined their arguments against the draft document. Many chose specific areas they felt lacked enough evaluation, such as visual impacts, water quality detriments, land use issues and oil spill risks, not to mention the impact on a nearby seal rookery.
Donna Jordan, among others, expressed worry about the noise that will be produced by a large drilling rig.
“Oil drilling is unavoidably an extremely noisy operation,” Jordan said. “...That makes it absolutely critical to understand exactly how much noise will be in earshot of someone near the project.”
To demonstrate potential impacts, several others offered audio demonstrations. Ted Rhodes, with the Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs, tossed a armful of metal pipes onto the floor of the Council Chambers before asking for more detailed analysis of noise impacts on both wildlife and residents.
Another citizen brought in a decibel meter and used a recording of an electric motor powering a compressor to demonstrate the level of noise that would be acceptable as analyzed by the draft EIR, eliciting laughs and applause from the audience.
Representatives from the Chumash Indian Council said the review of cultural impacts is not complete, emphasizing that the drilling project would severely impact their religious ceremonies held at nearby bluffs.
Many also addressed Veneco’s track record of fixing violations related to water runoff quality, pointing out infractions that haven’t been mitigated for more than five years. Nathan Alley, a lawyer with the Environmental Defense Center, said Veneco can not be expected to report or correct any violations related to this new project, since it has failed to do so in the past.
Other phrases used yesterday evening to describe the draft EIR included “foolhardy in the extreme,” “vague,” and “advocating for the project a little too much.”
The proposed project that has drawn widespread criticism from the residents of Carpinteria involves exploring oil and gas reservoirs off the coast of the town and building new, permanent oil production facilities.
If the project is approved, a 175-foot drill rig will be installed for at least six months while test wells are drilled. Then up to 35 additional wells will be drilled with a 140-foot rig that will remain at the site for six years.
Veneco officials said the project has the potential to tap into 23.5 million barrels of oil and 43 billion standard cubic feet of natural gas. They also emphasized the potential for the project to bring in $100 million in royalties to the city of Carpinteria during the 14-year project. Citizens in attendance were quick to point out that those royalties may only approach $14 million.
Yesterday evening’s meeting served only as a public hearing to gather comments on the draft EIR. Those still hoping to weigh in on the matter will have until August 9 to submit their comments, by e-mail to jackiec@ci.carpinteria.ca.us, or by mailing or delivering them to Carpinteria City Hall, care of Jackie Campbell, the city’s community development director.
Planning Commission Chairman Robert Ooley emphasized the importance of adequately evaluating Veneco’s proposed project yesterday.
“This is a highly unusual project, probably the most complicated in the history of Carpinteria,” Ooley said, adding that it might be the “most important thing to happen to Carpinteria ever.”

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