An advocacy group has gathered enough signatures to put an onshore fracking ban on the November ballot.
Santa Barbara County Water Guardians wants to ban all “high-intensity petroleum operations,” including hydraulic fracturing, oxidization and steam injection for onshore oil production in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Hydraulic fracturing is a method of oil extraction in which fluid is injected into cracks in rock formations to enlarge them so more oil and gas can flow into a drilling wellbore, from which it is extracted. A similar method, acidizing, uses hydrochloric acid or other chemicals to dissolve the rocks for the same result. A very well-attended public meeting was held recently to discuss the methods.
Supporters of the ban want to “head off” these techniques, which they see as risky and environmentally harmful, being implemented in local oil production. So far, the group isn't aware of companies using onshore fracking techniques within the county, said Katie Davis of the Water Guardians.
They are worried the techniques will be pursued at the proposed wells offshore of Carpinteria, Goleta and Vandenberg and want the ban in place.
The county doesn’t have jurisdiction over some offshore oil projects, but the ban would apply to slant drilling since the production is based onshore, she said.
Hundreds of volunteers gathered more than 16,000 signatures in just three weeks.
The county Board of Supervisors can approve the ban outright at next Tuesday's meeting, put it on the ballot or request a report from staff on the initiative’s impacts.
The majority of the county’s oil fields are within unincorporated areas, Davis said, but any cities that wanted to ban fracking and other methods would have to pass a separate ban. The petition had wide-ranging support from environmental groups, community groups, bipartisan groups, farmers and even some oil company employees who disagree with these techniques, according to Davis.
“We’re just really excited and looking forward to the next phase,” she said.
Petitioners say the ban wouldn’t impact “traditional” oil production but an industry group says otherwise.
“We have strong concerns about this ban because it goes beyond hydraulic fracturing and includes traditional forms of oil production like steam injection,” said Sabrina Lockhart, communications director for Californians for a Safe, Secure Energy Future.
“It seems like the proponents’ end goal is to end all oil production throughout the state,” she said.
The Chamber of Commerce of the Santa Barbara Region president Ken Oplinger came out against the petition when signatures were submitted, saying it could impact local jobs and gas prices if oil production stopped in the region.
“We have the strongest protections in the nation,” Lockhart said. “So it’s not as though it’s unregulated as these petition proponents would like the public to believe.”
The initiative would limit onshore exploration and onshore production of offshore oil and gas reservoirs, according to the summary written by the county counsel. It would ban well-stimulation treatments and recovery operations, including hydraulic fracturing, cyclic steam, waterfood or steamflood injection, and acid well stimulation treatments.