Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 25, 2015

Contact: Maya Golden-Krasner, (213) 215-3729,

Appeal Challenges Dangerous Oil Drilling in San Luis Obispo's Price Canyon

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed an appeal today against the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission’s recent approval of Freeport-McMoRan’s plan to drill dozens of new oil wells in the Arroyo Grande Oil Field in the Price Canyon area near Pismo Beach.

Today’s appeal, filed with the county board of supervisors, says Freeport’s request for an extension on an expired, decade-old plan to drill 31 new wells could threaten underground water supplies. There are at least 100 water-supply wells within a mile of the oilfield.

“County supervisors shouldn’t bend the rules to give this oil company special permission for dangerous drilling,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, a Center attorney. “It’s unsafe and irresponsible to renew the expired permit to drill these wells based on a cursory environmental review that’s 10 years old. The county must protect people’s water supplies from oil industry pollution.”

The planning commission’s Nov. 12 approval of Freeport’s drilling plan does require the company to install an unspecified number of sentry wells, and conduct water-well testing if requested by neighbors. But that provision doesn’t specify who will select the testing company or how the locations of the sentry wells will be chosen. Sentry wells could show what chemicals have contaminated the groundwater, but they will not prevent pollution from occurring in the first place.

Neighbors have expressed grave concerns about water contamination, and a hydrogeologist has told county planners that Freeport failed to provide data showing the water wells wouldn’t be at risk of oilfield pollution.

Since the original permit for the 31 wells was approved in 2005, the oil industry has undergone major changes. State oil regulators recently revealed that underground injection procedures like those planned in some of the new Arroyo Grande wells routinely fracture rock formations, creating underground pathways that can allow pollutants to reach water supplies.

California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources also recently released a self-audit showing a complete breakdown in the state’s regulation of oil industry injection wells. Among other disturbing facts, the audit found that state officials had allowed oil companies to drill wells into federally protected aquifers around the state, including in the Arroyo Grande field (interactive map).

These 31 wells are part of a larger Freeport expansion project. Freeport hopes to drill up to 450 new wells to achieve up to a 10-fold increase in daily oil production.

“People living near this oilfield are desperate to protect their water from contamination by the oil industry,” Golden Krasner said. “They know better than to count on state oil regulators, who have failed time after time in their duty to prevent pollution. County officials have to rein in the dangerous plan to expand this oilfield before irreparable damage is done. Once water supplies are polluted, it’ll be too late.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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