Oil Hunt to Begin in Westminster

Seismic testing in the city of Westminster by Signal Hill Petroleum will move forward after nearly two years of negotiating between the company and city over concerns that vibrations from the tests could damage aging city pipes.

The Westminster City Council Wednesday night approved an encroachment permit that would allow Signal Hill Petroleum to conduct the seismic tests, which will help the company identify potential oil reserves and, at some point, locations for a possible drilling operation.

The company in recent years has been quietly obtaining permits for the seismic tests across a broad swath of central and northwestern portions of Orange County. Other cities the company was working to obtain permits from include Santa Ana, Anaheim, Garden Grove, Stanton, Cypress and Buena Park.

But company officials had hit a wall in Westminster. Despite enlisting one of the most influential lobbying firms in the county, Curt Pringle & Associates, Westminster officials had resisted giving the company a permit because of potential damage to water and sewer systems. City staff raised concerns that vibrations from the tests could cause cracks in aging asbestos cement pipes that might not appear immediately.

However, the company was allowed at  to conduct limited testing on Newland and Bushard streets.

The Westminster council this week gave approval after many months of negotiations, but with a number of conditions:

  • The company must provide insurance and bonds for both the city and the Midway City Sanitary District
  • The company must reimburse both agencies for any staff time spent on the project
  • The company must provide warranties for damages to water or sewer facilities for both agencies
  • Vibrating machines must operate 25 feet from existing water lines and sewer mains, and 500 feet from sewer lift locations
  • Vibrating machines will not operate in certain areas specified by the city
  • Signal Hill Petroleum must indemnify the Midway City Sanitary District for any losses or damage resulting from the tests

The seismic tests, conducted by large trucks that lower a vibrating steel plate onto asphalt pavement, will only occur on minor and major arterial streets, not residential streets. Sensors that pick up the vibrations, however, will be placed throughout the city, according to a staff report.

Any potential oil drilling operation in these urban parts of the county could trigger political backlash. In the early 1990s, Chevron attempted to start a drilling operation in Garden Grove. After a massive public outcry and a voter initiative that severely restricted where the drilling could occur, the company pulled out.

Adam Elmahrek contributed to this report. 

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