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Concerns sharpen over Huasna Valley drilling proposal 

An oil exploration company’s plans to tap abandoned oil fields in Huasna Valley may not go as smoothly as once expected. Government officials are showing signs of skepticism, and the public outcry is escalating.

PUMPED UP :  Hundreds of people packed a recent meeting to discuss an oil exploration company’s plans to tap abandoned wells in Huasna Valley. - PHOTO COURTSEY HUASNA VALLEY ASSOCIATION
  • PHOTO COURTSEY HUASNA VALLEY ASSOCIATION
  • PUMPED UP : Hundreds of people packed a recent meeting to discuss an oil exploration company’s plans to tap abandoned wells in Huasna Valley.

“People are finally getting informed on the issues,” said Ron Skinner, coordinator the Huasna Valley Association, which opposes the project in its current form.

About 250 people turned out on July 31 in Arroyo Grande for a town hall meeting with San Luis Obispo County officials and a brief appearance by Australian Oil Company Limited CEO Grant Jagelman.

Excelaron is a small San Luis Obispo outfit that’s partially owned and managed by Australian Oil Company Limited. Jagelman also serves as Excelaron’s president.

In Huasna, Excelaron is pursuing county permits to explore three existing wells in the area that have remained untapped since the mid-1980s. They’re on the property of Howard Mankins, a former county supervisor.

About 10 residents at the meeting spoke against the project. The heaviest criticism falls on traffic studies looking at the estimated eight oil tankers per day that would truck crude out of the area, studies that opponents worry are insufficient. Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferrara also spoke to the panel, saying that he, too, was concerned about the damage the tankers could cause.

According to Excelaron’s Santa Barbara-based consultant, Dryden International, there could be as many as 20 million barrels of oil buried in the valley. That estimate, however, could be wildly optimistic, said Rob Skillin, a petroleum geologist and Huasna Valley resident.

“If you look back at the previous history of the oil fields, it never came anywhere close to those kinds of numbers,” he said.

Previous operations were able to extract a few barrels per day, he explained.

It will also take some coaxing to get the oil out of the ground. The Huasna oil is so thick, the historical method to extract it has been to inject hot water before pumping.

“This is not oil that’s going to go in anybody’s gas tank,” Skinner said. “This is tar.”

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