County Supervisors denied an appeal from the Center for Biological Diversity this week to require an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to drill for oil and gas in southern San Benito County. The Indian Wells Pilot Program is a project of the publicly-traded Citadel Exploration Inc., a Newport Beach-based oil and gas company.
The proposed project is located in the Bitterwater area in southwest San Benito County, approximately 8.5 miles east of Greenfield, California. The western project site boundary abuts the eastern Monterey County line. The site consists of approximately 688 acres on an over 30,000 acre ranch owned and operated by 5 Oaks Ltd.
According to the Planning Department’s project summary, “The approved project consists of an oil exploratory drilling program and temporary pilot thermal enhanced recovery project, located in the Bitterwater area in southwestern San Benito County. Oil resources are known to exist under the project site. The extent of those resources and the economic viability of developing those resources are not known. The sole purpose of the project is to determine the economic viability and the potential for the future development of the subsurface reservoir.” (See pages 674-778 in the agenda packet.)
The Washington-D.C.-based Center for Biological Diversity appealed to the county to require more environmental studies on the effects of drilling in the area, citing its unique and sensitive environmental qualities.
“We learned that there is a large oil formation, called the Monterey Shale or the Miocene Monterey Formation, that extends from the Santa Barbara area up to Monterey County, with fingers of reserves stretching out from there. Much of this oil is in a form that is not easily extractable using traditional methods; however, with the increase in recent years in the use of "enhanced recovery" techniques, there has been increased oil company interest in these reserves,” the group’s website explains. “These enhanced recovery methods include steam extraction, acid extraction, and hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"). Although all of these methods involve chemistry not used in traditional oil and natural gas extraction, in California none of them is regulated or tracked any differently than are the traditional methods. Statewide, there is no requirement that companies declare the chemicals used in their extraction operations, or even that they are using enhanced extraction methods. Any regulation on these activities therefore (need to be) enacted at the county level.”
Opponents of fracking argue the process threatens groundwater, pristine wildlife areas, sensitive native plants and endangered species. Some studies also suggest the process causes earthquakes. Local planners stressed, however, that no fracking has been approved in San Benito County and that should Citadel – or others – find oil, they will need to apply for another use permit if they want to use the technique.
“There was never any fracking proposed for this project,” said Acting San Benito Planning Director Byron Turner. “This use permit does not allow fracking.”
Any future activities that include fracking would have to be approved by the county and most likely would be three to five years away, Turner added. There is no doubt, however, that San Benito County is catching the attention of national environmental groups looking to preserve some of the country's most pristine and untouched natural resources.
“A fracking boom will devastate California’s beautiful public wildlands,” said Rose Braz, climate campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The federal government should protect these beautiful public places, not sell them off to be drilled and fracked, risking irreparable harm to our air, water and climate."
Citadel Exploration is a family operated oil and gas company that has deep roots in California.
“Citadel Exploration (OTCBB: COIL) is a pure-play California oil and gas company rooted in nearly a century of experience in the Los Angeles, San Joaquin, Sacramento and Salinas basins. CEO Armen Nahabedian is the fourth generation of a family that has found and developed some of the most significant discoveries in state history,” its website says. “Citadel currently is focusing its efforts on three primary prospects: Project Indian, a thermal-recovery project in San Benito county which is in the permitting stage; Rancho Grande, part of a 52,000-acre joint venture the company has developed on the Tejon Ranch and is currently being drilled; and Yowloumne, a new prospect recently acquired from Aera Energy.Citadel prides itself on its legacy of discovery and innovation in the industry, and is committed to a plan of careful, deliberate growth tempering risk by focusing on historically successful projects. The best place to find oil, is where it has already been found.”
Maureen Cain, spokeswoman for Aromas Cares About Our Environment (CARES), a local group opposed to oil drilling in San Benito County, was unavailable for comment.
The Indian Wells Project discussion will be continued at the supervisors meeting on July 9, when the board will consider further action.