Oil company backs down – will withdraw plans to drill in Santa Barbara, CA

  • Published on May 28th, 2020

In a major victory for environmentalists in their battle to stop the expansion of oil drilling in California, Aera Energy, an oil corporation co-owned by Exxon and Shell, on May 27 announced that they would be withdrawing their Cat Canyon oil project in Santa Barbara.

cat canyon, CA - a good place to NOT drill for oil
Cat Canyon, CA – a good place to NOT drill for oil. Sierra Club photo

By Dan Bacher

Aera said they were  “ongoing permit uncertainty with respect to oil and gas projects,” as well as “current global uncertainties in the oil market.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, oil prices have crashed below zero as dozens of oil tankers with no place to go are idling off the California coast.

“In short, Aera recognized that decision makers, including Sierra Club-endorsed county supervisors who won re-election in March, would not rubber stamp their dangerous project and would be taking into account well-documented impacts to water, air, endangered species and climate, as well as overwhelming community opposition,” according to a statement from the Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter. The current global oil glut has also makes these projects uneconomic,”

“Our thanks and congratulations to the thousands of community members who have expressed opposition to Cat Canyon oil expansion over many years and our generous members and donors who helped fund this long fight,” the group said.

In their press release issued yesterday, the Environmental Defense Center also celebrated the Decision.

“Today marks the end of another dirty oil project proposed by Aera Energy, LLC (“Aera”) in the Cat Canyon Oil Field.  Hundreds of oil tanker trucks will not flood our local roadways; thousands of native oak trees and threatened wildlife will survive; and our water will not be jeopardized by risky steam injection operations,” the group said. “After three years of fighting to halt Aera’s efforts to massively expand oil production in Santa Barbara County, our community now celebrates the extraordinary news that our clean air and water will not be put at risk for dirty oil.”

Since 2017, the Environmental Defense Center (“EDC”), on behalf of their clients, Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter and Santa Barbara County Action Network (“SBCAN”), has voiced strong opposition to Aera’s dangerous project and two other steam injection projects proposed in Cat Canyon, one by PetroRock LLC (“PetroRock”) and the other by TerraCore (formerly ERG), according to the group.

EDC noted that the news that Aera’s risky oil project will not go forward comes on the heels of PetroRock recently abandoning its application to drill and operate hundreds of new wells in Cat Canyon.

“Together, these three oil projects had been considered one of the largest environmental justice threats in Santa Barbara County history.  While TerraCore’s project has yet to be defeated, today’s victory is orders of magnitude more important and consequentia,” the release stated.

“The long fight against Aera’s dangerous oil project by EDC, our clients, partner groups, and community members has proven successful and these efforts serve to benefit our community and environmental health,” said Tara Messing, Staff Attorney for EDC. “Defeating Aera’s attacks on our air, water, and climate means one less environmentally-damaging oil project that would have committed our County to decades of fossil fuel energy generation. “

“The withdrawal of Aera’s application to produce more dirty oil in Santa Barbara County is a major step towards the phasing out of fossil fuels and fostering a clean renewable energy future,” stated Messing.

She said EDC’s work on defeating the three Cat Canyon projects has involved a complex, multi-level strategy:

“Nearly 500 pages of information was submitted by EDC on Aera’s draft environmental impact report that pointed out numerous omissions and inconsistencies about the project’s impacts from oil spills, fires, greenhouse gas emissions, grading of sensitive habitat, paving, trucking on our local roads, and freshwater usage.  In addition, EDC has been supporting the effort to build grassroots pressure, working to prevent these oil operators from depositing chemically polluted wastewater in underground aquifers, and fighting a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service General Conservation Plan from easing a path for oil companies, like Aera, to destroy hundreds of acres of essential habitat critical for local endangered and threatened species.”

“A major victory! Aera, which is co-owned by Exxon and Shell, recognized that decision-makers would not rubber stamp their dangerous project and would be taking into account the well-documented impacts to water, air, endangered species and climate, as well as overwhelming community opposition,” said Katie Davis, Chair of the Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter.

After today, there is one less threat from risky oil operations, but EDC and their clients said they will now turn their focus to stopping the TerraCore project.  “This remaining threat will add hundreds of new wells to the Field, generate substantial greenhouse gas emissions that severely increase climate risks, may jeopardize drinking water quality in the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin, use thousands of gallons of local freshwater for drilling, and threaten public safety by adding hundreds of tanker truck trips to highways and rural roads,” EDC said

“SBCAN has been working for more than eight years to defeat onshore oil development proposals in the Santa Maria area,” said Ken Hough, xecutive Director. “First, Santa Maria Energy was subjected to strict mitigations by the County, then Pacific Coast Energy’s Orcutt Hill expansion was denied by the County, then one and now two oil projects have withdrawn from the fight sensing the formidable community opposition and the futility of trying to make profit drilling for some of the thickest oil in the world.”

“EDC, our clients, and our partners will continue to put pressure on the remaining TerraCore project as it continues through the permitting process.  Through these efforts, we hold the protection of our natural resources and surrounding communities paramount,” EDC concluded.



About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.

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