Oil and gas-drilling project site

Photo by Kyle Szymanski

Indiana’s Powerdrive Oil & Gas Company, LLC, in conjunction with Brentwood’s  Sunset Exploration Inc., seeks to drill three exploratory wells on a 160-acre parcel south of the corner of Hidden Ranch Road and Old Sand Creek.

A proposed exploratory oil and gas-drilling project in unincorporated Brentwood has flared community concerns.

Indiana’s Powerdrive Oil & Gas Company, LLC, in partnership with Brentwood’s Sunset Exploration Inc., seeks to drill three exploratory wells in search of commercial quantities of oil or gas on a 160-acre parcel south of the corner of Hidden Ranch Road and Old Sand Creek.

But residents and activist groups are drilling into the idea.

“There are a whole bunch of factors for why the community is opposed to this,” said Brentwood resident Jon Wilson, just one of 530 members of a No Drilling in Brentwood Facebook group. “In general, nobody wants to live next to oil wells. It brings down property values — the aesthetics of it, but also the possible health impacts. There have been a lot of studies in the last couple of years that show radically increased cancer rates for anyone living in proximity to oil wells because of the different gases and vapors that escape during the process.”

Preliminary plans submitted to the county for approval state that if commercial quantities of oil and gas are found, a smaller rig will be moved in and a permanent production well installed.

The exploratory drilling would run around the clock daily for 20 days per well.

If commercial quantities are found, a completion rig would be installed over 30 days and operate about 12 hours daily.

A 3,350-linear-foot gas pipeline would also be installed about 4 feet under an existing access road, mainly in the Antioch city limits.

County officials have prepared a preliminary project environmental evaluation document, stating that the project will have “less than significant” environmental impacts. But they are currently accepting public comments on the initial documents until 5 p.m., on June 9.

Sunset Exploration Inc. President Bob Nunn has had a similar county-accepted project running on Deer Valley Road open land, between Balfour Road and Kaiser Permanente Antioch Medical Center since 2018. He said he’s confident that from the proposed site, it’s not visible from homes, the operation won’t be heard by area residents, and the natural distance from houses or buildings is far enough way to mitigate any potential health risks.

He pointed out that the home closest to the new potential site is around 1,140 feet away, compared to 970 feet at the already operating Deer Valley project site that went through the same county acceptance process and has garnered no complaints — despite being just down the road from Kaiser Permanente Antioch Medical Center and Dozier-Libbey Medical High School.

“I will be surprised if the data shows that the proximity of (the new site) is unhealthy,” he said. “If it is, I have to move it. That is not my desire ( to have an unsafe location) … My experience is, it is absolutely not too close, by a lot. There is data that shows 500 feet is safe, but let’s find out. Let’s slow the process down. We have never been in a hurry.”

Brentwood-area residents, in conjunction with activist groups, however, say they are too concerned to let the project proceed.

They are mounting a campaign to halt the endeavor by writing letters and hoping to retain an attorney.

Brentwood resident Jovita Mendoza, who launched the opposition Facebook group, said her concerns are wide-ranging and include harmful gases emanating from the site, groundwater impacts and seismic concerns.

Her worries are exacerbated by both her daughter and mother having asthma.

“We just don’t know what the ramifications are, and our request is that the county do an (environmental impact report) and carry out a study to ensure the safety for the residents of Brentwood,” she said.

Nunn disputes those claims, noting the distance is self-mitigating to health risks and thousands of wells in California have been drilled with no study concluding it causes fault activation in the state.

District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis said the project application was submitted about a year ago, but she just became aware of it recently.

The public comment period has been pushed forward to June 9, to allow everyone time to have their say, she added.

“I heard it could go before (county zoning officials), it could go before the planning commission, it could go all different directions,” she said. “At this point (public commenters) have until June 9 to make their comments, and then we will go from there.”

If approved, the work would be completed on land currently used for livestock grazing and for Pacific Gas and Electric transmission towers. The area was previously used for gas and oil production as part of the Brentwood Oil and Gas Fields from the 1960s until about 20 to 30 years ago.

Nunn says that over time it’s possible oil has separated from water, which could yield additional goods.

“(These reservoirs) stopped producing 20 to 30 years ago,” he said. “It’s kind of like grabbing your oil and vinegar bottle. Assume the oil is oil and the vinegar is water, and you kind of disrupt it and shake it around. It gets all mixed up together. Then you set in on the counter, and over time it will separate. What we have found in this (Deer Valley Area project) field is the original oil column that was 120 feet thick and producing mainly water in 1992 when they left, has about 40 feet of oil left. Is that the case over here? Well, I don’t know.”

Residents, however, say whatever that answer, they want no such activity to occur.

“Leave the fossil fuels in the ground where they belong,” said Sheila Sidhu Hill.

For more information on the project, or to learn how to publicly comment to the county, visit https://bit.ly/2XXttyD.