Maya Chiodo’s article “Can Solar Grease Oil’s Wheels?” does an impressive job of showing the oil industry’s greenwashing techniques. According to Santa Barbara County’s own analysis, ERG’s new owner TerraCore would need to install 1,000 acres of solar or 125 megawatts to heat up enough water to extract the thick, gooey oil in the tapped out Cat Canyon field. The 3 megawatt solar plan is window dressing.
TerraCore, a small company owned by Coloradan Will McConathy, considered to be “the youngest member of the Koch network,” according to The Hill newspaper, bought bankrupt ERGs massive holdings for $27 million, leaving Trump top financier and ERG-debt holder Andrew Beal of Texas, with a loss of upward of $400 million.
TerraCore may try to stick a solar smiley-face on its cyclic-steam injection plan, one of the most dangerous and carbon-intensive fossil fuel-extraction methods in the world, but it’s run out of gimmicks.
All the solar oil greenwashing in the world can’t deny the fact that the oil extraction in Santa Barbara County is on its last legs. Today’s oil industry makes up just one percent of Santa Barbara County’s employment and one percent of tax revenue. And now we’re learning, the risks are too great. This summer, Chevron spilled 1.2 million gallons in Kern County in what is now the largest California oil spill in 30 years, and they’ve been doing it for 16 years. State officials linked the spill to cyclic-steam injection, the same kind sought in Cat Canyon. Meanwhile, government scientists have found links between cyclic steam sites and groundwater contamination in Orcutt, Oxnard and Bakersfield. A similar cyclic steam project proposed by Pacific Coast Energy in 2016 was rejected by the county due to “significant and unavoidable impacts to water resources.”
TerraCore, Aera (owned by Exxon and Shell), and PetroRock should see the handwriting on the wall make a graceful exit from Cat Canyon before they lose even more money. The glory days of oil in Santa Barbara County passed a century ago. Today, the world is burning, clean energy jobs outpace fossil fuel jobs in California 5-1, and we can’t afford to let our drinking water be contaminated.
This time, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.
Jonathan Ullman is director of Santa Barbara’s Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter.