Nestled between highways 101 and 227 lies Price Canyon oil field, home to 165 oil wells and 40 injector wells. Sentinel Peak Resources, the oil company that owns the property, wants to raise those numbers to 686.
Under a project proposal submitted by the company, an additional 481 wells would populate the oil field with approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But because there’s an aquifer underneath the field, some San Luis Obispo residents are concerned that their drinking water could be contaminated by the drilling in that area. They’ve appealed the proposal and are pressuring the EPA, as well as various state and county agencies, to rethink the project.
Jesse Gibson, outreach coordinator for a citizen group called Protect Price Canyon, said the oil company is acting irresponsibly in proposing the project. He said the groundwater hasn’t been properly mapped out in that area, which means there’s no way to tell for certain if drilling there is safe.
“We don’t want them to go ahead with that until it’s better understood and a proper Environmental Impact Report is prepared,” Gibson said.
Gibson also expressed concern about polluting water sources that could potentially run dry in the future.
“It doesn’t make sense to do such a water-intensive extraction process and pollute aquifers for future use when we know it’s likely we’ll be in a drought in the future,” Gibson said.
John McKenzie, senior planner at the County of San Luis Obispo and the county project manager, said that technical experts from agencies like the Division of Oil, Gas and Natural Resources, along with the State Water Resources Control Board, have surveyed the area to ensure it’s safe to drill. It’s his responsibility to review any information he receives about the project before moving forward with recommendations.
“We want to include any information that is out there that we don’t know about, so we want to make sure we disclose that and consider that and then make it available to the decision makers,” he said.
Still, many citizens are not wholly convinced that their drinking water will remain safe if the project is approved. Adam Hill, San Luis Obispo County Supervisor for the third district, said that’s partly because it’s unclear with whom citizens should speak with about their concerns.
“The more you have unelected bureaucrats from other agencies involved, the more [citizens’] concerns are reasonable,” Hill said. “[The oil company] doesn’t necessarily need to listen to the citizens or the county government.”
However, that doesn’t mean their voices are going completely unheard. Hill works to make sure his residents’ concerns are properly expressed to the oil company and the EPA.
“We’ve pushed on the oil company a couple different times to test water, to do some more community outreach,” Hill said.
To date, there’s no official word on whether or not the project will be approved. The EPA will likely release a decision in late February.