ERG Operating Co.’s proposed West Cat Canyon Revitalization Plan will be back before the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission in Santa Maria on Wednesday as commissioners continue their scrutiny of the environmental impact report and project application.

The hearing, continued from March 13, is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the Board Hearing Room of the Joseph Centeno Betteravia Government Administration Building at 511 E. Lakeside Parkway.

Other than routine reports and approval of the minutes from previous meetings, the ERG project is the only item on the agenda.

Those who can’t attend the continued hearing Wednesday can view it live streamed on CSBTV’s website at www.countyofsb.org/ceo/csbtv/livestream.sbc and on YouTube.

More than 100 people turned out for the start of the hearing two weeks ago, when dozens of people spent more than four hours telling the commission about their support for the proposed project and belief in the adequacy of the EIR or their opposition to the proposal and perceived failure of the EIR to address multiple impacts.

Protesters with signs gathered outside the building entrance prior to the start of the hearing and are expected to do the same Wednesday. Supporters, many of them union members wearing bright construction vests, filled the audience chairs inside and are likely to return to Wednesday's session.

Chairman John Parke of the 3rd Supervisorial District told the overflow crowd it could take several meetings before the commission reaches a decision on the EIR and either recommends approval of the project or sends it back for reworking.

He also indicated public comment was concluded at the March 13 meeting and the March 27 session would be devoted to the commissioners asking the staff questions about the project.

Parke said staff members may have to research some of the questions and bring answers back at another meeting.

The published agenda for Wednesday’s meeting doesn’t reflect what procedure will be followed as the commission continues its review of ERG’s proposed project that is scaled back from its original application to what’s referred to as Alternative 1.

ERG officials agreed to seek approval for the 20 percent smaller project after it was recommended by the County Planning & Development Department staff based on the results of the EIR.

Alternative 1 calls for 187 new steam-injected oil and gas wells on 91 existing pads — nine of which would be expanded —along with four new steam generators, new pipelines within the existing field and support equipment on about 75 acres of ERG’s 8,054-acre property in West Cat Canyon.

The oil remaining in the field is extremely thick and will require injecting steam into the oil-bearing layer to liquefy the crude enough to be pumped out, according to the EIR.

Once at the surface, the oil must be mixed with lighter crude oil piped in from Kern County so it has an acceptable viscosity to be piped out.

But because a pipeline to deliver the oil to distribution points farther north has not yet been rebuilt, the oil initially would be trucked out in tankers after being mixed with lighter oil that would be trucked in.

In addition, a new 8-inch-diameter, 3.5-mile-long natural gas fuel pipeline would be constructed to provide fuel for routine field operations, although an existing 4-inch gas line would remain in place as a backup.

The EIR identified three significant and unavoidable Class 1 environmental impacts that even the reduced-size project can’t eliminate.

One impact is the potential for oil spills to degrade the habitat for threatened and endangered species and rare plants, and another is the potential for spills to degrade water quality.

The third impact is that noise from construction and drilling is likely to exceed county limits at surrounding homes that are identified as “sensitive receptors.”

Opponents say the EIR failed to evaluate spills of produced wastewater and other hazardous materials from new wells, trucks, pipelines and production facilities, impacts from greenhouse gas emissions and didn’t include the total amount of fresh water that would be used for drilling, construction and operations.

They also say the safety risk of 156 one-way tanker truck trips per day and toxic wastewater to be injected into the ground were not addressed by the EIR.

The EIR has also been criticized for failing to consider the cumulative impacts of the new project combined with ERG’s existing operations and the proposed PetroRock and Aera Energy projects adjacent to the site.

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News Editor

Mike Hodgson is news editor at the Santa Ynez Valley News, where he writes about local government, special events and the people who live in the Valley. He has been a photographer, writer, news editor and managing editor at weekly newspapers since 1972

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