Deciding to pull out of the oilfield redevelopment venture in Santa Barbara County wasn’t easy
Six years after it applied for a land-use permit to redevelop the historic East Cat Canyon oilfield in Santa Barbara County, Aera Energy has withdrawn from the project.
Aera had expected the oilfield to eventually produce 10,000 barrels of oil a day under safe conditions for people and the environment.
But uncertainty in the oil market and concerns about the permitting approval process led to Aera’s May 27 announcement that it was ending the project near Santa Maria.
Cutbacks in capital and operating expenses related to the COVID-19 economic downturn also played a role.
“This was not an easy decision,” said a disappointed Rick Rust, Aera’s public affairs project manager in Santa Barbara County.
“Through the years, we have been welcomed into the community with warm relations by many people and organizations in Santa Barbara County,” Rust added. “We appreciate all they have done to assist us in our efforts.”
The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission was slated to vote in September on the county’s final environmental impact review of the Aera project.
Intertwined with the community
Aera had worked closely with the community and government agencies in its East Cat Canyon planning process.
“This was not an easy decision.”
After input from area stakeholders and county planning staff, Aera announced in October 2019 it would decrease the number of wells in the project from 296 to 189. The reduction would have substantially lowered air emissions, freshwater use and wildlife habitat impacts.
Before that, Aera had shrunk the project’s footprint by 45%. The 2,100-acre project site included 503 acres of permanent conservation area. Plans called for 94% of the project site to remain permanently preserved or undisturbed.
The oilfield redevelopment project was expected to generate $1.3 billion in economic activity.
Among local stakeholders who supported Aera’s venture was Glenn Morris, president and CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“Aera’s East Cat Canyon project . . . will create high-quality jobs and millions of tax dollars every year for schools, law enforcement and other vital services,” Morris told Aera in August 2019.