Saturday, February 6 , 2016, 4:36 am | Fair 42º

Fracking Takes Flak as Santa Barbara County Supervisors Explore Oil, Gas Drilling Regulations

Opponents raise concerns over extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing

Blair Knox, public affairs director of the California Independent Petroleum Association, spoke in favor of hydraulic fracturing, and explained that the practice is often the only way for energy companies to reach otherwise inaccessible oil and gas. Click to view larger
Blair Knox, public affairs director of the California Independent Petroleum Association, spoke in favor of hydraulic fracturing, and explained that the practice is often the only way for energy companies to reach otherwise inaccessible oil and gas.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

By Lara Cooper and Daniel Langhorne, Noozhawk Staff Writers | @NoozhawkNews |

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors took a long look at the oil and gas industry’s practice of hydraulic fracturing Tuesday. While the process may not be a household term, there was plenty of opinion about the matter — for and against.

Hydraulic fracturing, often called “fracking,” is used to extract trapped oil and gas by injecting fluid into a well bore at pressures that exceed the strength of the rock confining the oil and gas. To enhance the effectiveness, drilling companies have added a variety of chemicals to the liquid being injected.

Opponents of hydraulic fracturing cite concerns about groundwater quality while supporters say fracking can reach energy reserves that are inaccessible by other methods.

Some of the chemicals used in the process are toxic but several companies consider the mixtures to be confidential trade secrets in the highly competitive industry.

First District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal said hydraulic fracturing, as depicted in media portrayals, is cause for concern. 'Fiction or nonfiction, they are really disturbing,' he says.
First District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal said hydraulic fracturing, as depicted in media portrayals, is cause for concern. “Fiction or nonfiction, they are really disturbing,” he says. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The California Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources has statutory authority to regulate fracking, but it doesn’t require reporting to track the different methods or the fluids injected into the ground. The practice is also largely exempt from the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act, except when diesel fuel is used as the fracking agent.

The practice was recently employed by Venoco Inc. in two wells near Los Alamos. County staff say the company conducted the fracking without proper authorization and two notices of violation were sent to the company in May.

Santa Barbara County regulations don’t specifically address hydraulic fracturing, but a discretionary Oil Drilling and Production Plan is required for any oil or gas drilled in an inland area within a state field that uses groundwater as a means of flooding a subsurface formation. Venoco denies it violated any county land-use codes or permits for the two wells, maintains that the notices are flawed and has asked that they be withdrawn.

Venoco’s alleged violations weren’t the subject of Tuesday’s item before the Board of Supervisors, however. Instead, the board looked at a more general picture of fracking regulations in the county.

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said she brought the item before the board because she’s received letters of concern from constituents, primarily addressing water quality. The supervisors received a report on the topic Tuesday and will revisit the issue at their Aug. 2 meeting.

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said he’s “not one to be caught up in the hysteria,” but added that the topic was a concern for him. The movie Gasland was brought up multiple times during the meeting, and Carbajal said such portrayals of fracking paint an unsavory picture.

“Fiction or nonfiction, they are really disturbing,” he said.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino took a different approach.

“Before we go out and get our torches and pitchforks,” he said, “we’ve got to get away from hypotheticals.”

Doug Anthony of the county Energy Division ran through a presentation of how the hydraulic fracturing process works.

During Anthony’s comments, it was pointed out that there have been complaints from residents about an odor coming from the area around the wells, and 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf confirmed that she also had received emails from residents. The county Air Pollution Control District investigated and found that Venoco had left open several tanks used to clean off the well bores, and the the acidic mixture used had caused the smell.

Terry Dressler, director and air pollution control officer, said the district doesn’t require any specific permitting for the chemicals that Venoco is using. Anything that becomes a public nuisance, however, like the strong smell reported by residents, can be addressed by the agency. Venoco has not disclosed its list of chemicals used in the company’s fracking process, said Dressler, who added that everything under the ground is regulated by the state Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources anyway.

Nearly 20 speakers came forward during the supervisors’ meeting, the majority of whom expressed concern about fracking and its impacts on groundwater. Two attorneys representing ranching families in the area surrounding the well, said ground wells are the only water source for people living nearby. Lindsey Reed, who also lives in the area, expressed concern about agricultural operations, including large swaths of land used as vineyards. Keeping water chemical free was crucial, Reed said.

Speakers from communities that haven’t experienced fracking said they were alarmed, as well.

“Carpinteria is scared,” said Vera Benson, who reminded the board that exactly one year ago Carpinteria voters had overwhelmingly rejected a Venoco ballot initiative, known as Measure J, to slant drill on the South Coast.

“We voted down Measure J because of these unanswered questions,” she said.

Hydraulic fracturing had its supporters, though.

Blair Knox, public affairs director of the California Independent Petroleum Association, spoke in favor of the practice. Venoco officials chose to let its trade association speak for the company.

Tupper Hall, vice president of strategic communications at the Western States Petroleum Association, noted that “a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding” surrounded Tuesday’s discussion.

“I think it’s fair to say the operations that take place are highly regulated,” he said, adding that fracking was an “intelligent and safe practice.”

Wolf said she’d like to see county staff tighten up an inspection plan for all drilling sites in the county, and require companies that are planning to extract oil and gas through fracking to provide a workplan before there’s a problem.

“This is potentially affecting our citizens,” she said. “We need to get a handle on this as soon as possible.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Intern Daniel Langhorne can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

» on 06.08.11 @ 11:13 AM

Here we go again with Vera Benson.  She won’t ever be happy until she completely shuts Venoco down.  She can be proud that her and her group stopped the Paradon Project.  It must be rewarding to know that you can completely lie about everything and get people to vote on emotion caused by straight out lies.  Starting from visual impact, amount of trucks, rigs all along the bluffs, effect on seals, noise, and the kicker using a pneumatic pile driver on a tv commercial saying this is what you will hear for 30 years!  All of it, untrue.  The main electric driven rig would have been there 9 months then shortened and surrounded by a lighthouse structure pumping oil into an already existing gas plant that is already bringing in gas and oil from offshore.
She has already written in to the local paper about fracking.  Wonderful to see that people can see a hit piece movie, based on lies and then get up in arms and try to stop the industry.  The gas coming from the faucets have been proven to be from naturally occurring methane in the water table.  Cases were dismissed! The left agenda is more important than the truth and we will all pay for it, unless people get educated, instead of just relying on the lies from the left to spark emotions.

» on 06.08.11 @ 01:33 PM

Talk about a target-rich environment.

To Salud Carbajal: I, too, turn to Hollywood for scientific expertise. In fact, I’m still freaked out by the cockroaches in “Men In Black”. Fiction or nonfiction, exterminators are really disturbing to me now.

To Janet Wolf: There’s hydro-fracking going on in your district? Where?

To Vera Benson: Carpinteria is scared? Of hydro-fracking? No, Carpinteria is just plain nuts.

» on 06.09.11 @ 12:51 AM

>>> Some of the chemicals used in the process are toxic but several companies consider the mixtures to be confidential trade secrets

I’ll bet there’s a lot of stuff they don’t want us to know about.

We should all boycott Venoco, shouldn’t we? Remember what they tried to do in Carp? They don’t seen to be good local citizens (I know, they are not local).

» on 06.09.11 @ 11:46 AM

Fracking is a dangerous and expensive way to extract gas from the Earth.  Even Forbes Magazine has warned of the dangers and has advised companies to police themselves to avoid regulation.  In Pennsylvania 8,000 gallons of toxic chemicals ran off into a local stream because of fracking. Millions of gallons of dangerous chemicals are being injected into the Earth putting vital groundwater at risk of contamination. 

The amount of energy it takes to produce natural gas makes this an expensive and stupid technology. We would do well to stop it completely in Santa Barbara.

» on 06.09.11 @ 03:02 PM

Would that be Ed Forbes or Forbes magazine?  Why didn’t you differentiate?  Of course, Ed Forbes is against it.  Hellman from Forbes magazine is for it.  Another liberal word play to get the emotions going and now, how many will repeat it?
Instead of complaining and stopping the industry, come up with solutions or chemicals that will work.  The chemicals used in the process have never been shown to contaminate the water table.  The fear of it happening is what causes uproars and the left love to play on fear.
As far as boycotting Venoco, I agree.  Never use the heater in your house, never drive anywhere, don’t use your stove or oven, shut off your electricity completely.  When will your side learn that we cannot just shut off the industry, unless you want to go back to the middle ages.  Green technology is not there yet or affordable.  There is no way to pay for it or subsidize it with taxpayer money without destroying the economy and the lifestyle Americans have lived with.  I know the one thing about Socialism/Liberalism is to change everyone’s lifestyle…but you cannot, without destroying freedom!  We will see the way the lawsuit turns out in Pennsylvania as chemicals found were not used in the fracking process and could have been caused by surface contamination.  You have brought up one case, that has not been settled yet in court.  Why don’t you bring up all the cases that were brought and were rejected because it was found to be not true as the cause?  The oil and gas industry should definitely have oversight regulations and any problems or future problems should be hashed out, but to stop or destroy an industry because of ideology should be avoided.  Let’s work together and we will all accomplish the goal of a cleaner environment sooner than later.  Otherwise it is a continuing life long fight that gets us nowhere!

» on 06.10.11 @ 01:58 PM

We live in a beautiful state that is a leader in Environmental awareness. We pride ourselves for thinking about impacts on the Environment. UCSB has a top program dedicated to that. It makes sense for residents to be concerned about a business that could potentially harm the land and water, that is dependent on other industries. Until those companies disclose the chemicals being used, do we go by their word alone? Is it worth the risk to both the environment and agricultural industry? These companies are able to deny claims against them because of the lack of proof, proof which can only confirmed if they disclose their chemicals.
So I am sorry if I and others dissagree with your opinion. Has nothing to do about politics, just disclosure. Granted, companies have the right to protect their formulas, however, if such products have a potential to cause serious harm, then it’s the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors to direct these companies to disclose these chemicals, for review. It’s the price they will have to pay to do business in Santa Barbara. The future depends on it.

» on 03.10.12 @ 11:56 PM

In SLO the city staff voted down fracking in the Huasna Valley. The film GASLAND which won the academy award for best documentary in 2010 is available for screening. We showed it in SLO with a packed audience with local experts to discuss the outrageous and polluting fracking practices that was the cause of a recent earthquake in Ohio (see It was shown in SBarbara in late January with just a meager audience. Time to show it again? here is the trailer:

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