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Excelaron drilling proposal inches forward 

Here’s the cliché tally for the first appeal hearing on Excelaron’s proposed drilling operation in the Huasna Valley:

• Standing room only.

click to enlarge PACKED HOUSE :  After about five hours of public comment, San Luis Obispo County supervisors asked Excelaron representatives to meet with county planners and hammer out lingering concerns on its proposed oil-drilling operation in the Huasna Valley. - PHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY
  • PHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY
  • PACKED HOUSE : After about five hours of public comment, San Luis Obispo County supervisors asked Excelaron representatives to meet with county planners and hammer out lingering concerns on its proposed oil-drilling operation in the Huasna Valley.

• Property rights of the few versus property rights of the many.

• A few tears.

After nearly five hours of public comment on the five-year-old proposed project, San Luis Obispo County supervisors decided to kick a final decision on the controversial project to Aug. 21—but only after hearing from a wide swath of frightened neighbors, vehement mineral rights advocates, and a few in-betweeners. In total, about 70 people spoke at the May 15 hearing, about two-thirds of whom were firmly opposed to drilling in their bucolic valley, despite Excelaron’s assertions that its project will go unnoticed.

 “We’re residents of the Huasna area, and we’re scared to death,” resident Doug Timewell said.

SLO County planners have repeatedly recommended denial of the 12-well project, expected to draw about 1,000 barrels of oil per day. The county Planning Commission voted 4-1 in March to deny the project. And now it’s in the laps of SLO County supervisors.

But in the weeks since planning commissioners cast their vote, Excelaron says its managed to reduce the majority of the most significant environmental impacts concerning noise, odor, and aesthetics in the remote agricultural area.

“There is no reason to deny this project,” said Dr. Art Halleran, CEO of Canada-based United Hunter Oil & Gas Corp., which has a controlling stake in the project.

In fact, Halleran claims, the risk of an oil spill from trucks hauling crude out of the project site on the Mankins Ranch is almost nonexistent. Halleran said the risk is one accident every 1,377 years, a statement that drew sarcastic chuckles from the standing-room only Board of Supervisors Chambers.

While a majority of voices spoke against the project (“Short-term profit does not justify leaving an environmental wasteland to our children,” one resident said), there was a good show of support for Excelaron, individual property rights, and, specifically, mineral-rights holders.

“What I do resent is the implication that the only ones who love the Huasna are those who oppose Excelaron’s project,” said John Porter, whose family owns the Porter Ranch, which would serve as a truck route for Excelaron.

But many residents just don’t buy what Excelaron is selling, specifically that it only plans to drill 12 wells. Residents like Ron Skinner of the Huasna Foundation (formerly Huasna Valley Association) thinks Excelaron simply can’t draw 1,000 barrels per day from such a small operation, and United Hunter has told its investors it hopes to drill 60 wells on 600 acres, Skinner told county supervisors.

Project representatives have maintained they only plan to drill four test wells and up to eight exploration wells, if approved. Between now and the next hearing, Excelaron will have to work with planners on the revised project.

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