Friday, May 27 , 2016, 11:18 am | Partly Cloudy 64º

Public Debates Measure P Oil Production Ban During Santa Barbara County Workshop

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

Public speakers packed the room on Friday, lining up to tell Santa Barbara County planners what they thought of a draft ordinance that would be used to implement a ban on hydraulic fracturing and other high-intensity oil drilling techniques if voters give the go-ahead this fall.

Voters will consider Measure P this November, which would ban high-intensity oil production methods in unincorporated areas, including techniques such as fracking, acidizing and steam injection.

The workshop was held Friday afternoon in the County Administration Building for the public to give input on the draft implementation ordinance and the exemptions for Measure P.

The initiative doesn't include guidelines for exemptions or implementation, and the Board of Supervisors supported this draft ordinance to address those issues. 

The measure is a controversial one, and many of Friday's speakers criticized the exemptions and the measure itself.

Some opponents said there were serious concerns about the lawsuits the county could face if the measure is enacted, and that planners had hurriedly put together a draft ordinance in six days to attempt to protect the county from litigation.

Scroll down to view the complete draft ordinance. 

Proponents of the measure, spearheaded by the Santa Barbara County Water Guardians, showed up wearing their matching blue shirts and commended the planners for the ordinance.

"In releasing this draft ordinance, county staff has made it clear that there will be life after Measure P for current oil and gas operators in Santa Barbara," Rebecca Claassen said. “We drafted Measure P in a manner that encouraged the county to create a streamlined mechanism for approving exemptions for existing operations and for anyone who might have a valid legal claim. This draft ordinance does a good job of establishing such a system."

Supporter Katie Davis said the ordinance explicitly exempts projects that have already been approved or are under construction.

However, if the measure is not approved this fall, she warned, the local environment would "face catastrophic damage."

A large contingent of people opposing the measure also spoke, including mineral rights owners, engineers and oil company employees.

The ordinance states that anyone with "vested rights" to a property before the initiative passes will be exempt, but what a vested right actually means was a point of contention.  

Janice Battles, a mineral rights owner, lamented the point.

"Am I going to be able to have a lease with an oil company? … I need to know about vested rights," she said. "This ordinance leaves me with more questions than answers."

Santa Maria Energy also had a group of speakers at the meeting.

Beth Marino, vice president of legal and corporate affairs for the oil company, said that the ordinance makes clear that the SME project approved last year by the Board of Supervisors would not be able to go forward, and that the ordinance trumps the county's process that has already played out.

"Please don't be fooled — the ordinance makes clear that existing operations will be affected," she said.

"County Counsel has said this is the most significant exposure to liability they have ever seen," said attorney Steve Amerikaner, adding that a "tsunami" of litigation would be unleashed should the measure pass.

Supporter Gary Laskey said high-intensity operations "have devastated communities elsewhere" and that many cities have already taken action.

"In New York state alone, more than 100 cities have passed ordinances," he said, adding that even Dallas has implemented 1,500 foot setbacks from fracking operations. "They are protecting their people. We in Santa Barbara deserve to do the same."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

CLUDC Draft Ordinance

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