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Environmental group alleges illegal oil drilling at Arroyo Grande oilfield

The Center for Biological Diversity is claiming that the operator of the Arroyo Grande oilfield has been drilling illegal wells for years.

The Center for Biological Diversity is claiming that the operator of the Arroyo Grande oilfield has been drilling illegal wells for years.

Victoria Bogdan Tejeda is a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. She said the organization made this alleged discovery after years of monitoring the expansion of the oilfield and making a public records request.

The Center said that despite the oilfiled’s drilling permit expiring in 2015, San Luis Obispo County has given oilfield operator Sentinel Peak Resources approval for 37 new wells since 2017. Bogden Tejeda said these wells haven’t been properly reviewed.

“They’ve done this without there being any kind of public process, while their permit is expired,” Bogden Tejeda said. “The county says, ‘Oh it’s okay. These are replacement wells.’ But as the records show, sometimes there are instances where the old well is still pumping oil and now there’s a so-called replacement well that’s also pumping oil. That’s just wrong.”

Bogden Tejeda said the county bears a lot of responsibility for allowing these alleged practices and they need to take action. The Center detailed its findings in a letter to county leaders this week.

The county said they received the letter and are in the process of reviewing it and evaluating the Center’s statements.

The Center said many of the approved new oil wells are ones that use huge amounts of water and pose extreme risks to people’s health and the environment. A recent report released by the Center claims that the Arroyo Grande oilfield is the fourth most carbon-polluting oilfield in the state.

“Situating this in terms of the climate crisis, we heard recently, in the plainest language possible, that the climate is in a Code Red,” Bogden Tejeda said. “More oil drilling is the last thing we need.”

Mary Ciesinski is the executive director for the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo, or ECOSLO. She said this drilling could also have potential impacts on residents living near the oilfield who rely on well water.

“If nothing else, they should have been notified that this was going on,” Ciesinski said. “This is affecting them in their own backyard. These are the concerns that our community and those neighbors have had for years.”

In a statement to KCBX News, Sentinel Peak Resources said:

“Sentinel Peak is in receipt of a lengthy letter submitted to the County of San Luis Obispo regarding our operations in the Arroyo Grande oil field. Review of the letter is ongoing but appears rooted in the same misinformation that has been cited before and proven to be false by multiple third-party reviews. The Arroyo Grande oil field is regulated by more than 15 separate agencies and has been operated with a strong record of compliance with all regulations and conditional use permit requirements. Any allegations to the contrary are baseless and not supported by agency inspections or any other facts.”

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is expected to decide whether to let Sentinel drill 31 additional wells at a meeting on October 19.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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