Tuesday, May 24 , 2016, 6:13 am | Partly Cloudy 54º

Ron Fink: Is Measure P Needed to Protect Santa Barbara County, or Is It a Trojan Horse?

By Ron Fink |

The rhetoric surrounding Measure P, a so-called anti-fracking measure, is at a fever pitch. Now that it’s on the November ballot, proponents are scrambling to try to convince poorly informed voters that there is nothing to worry about — we (environmentalists) will take care of you and hoping that voters of Santa Barbara County can be duped into believing that voting yes on Measure P will save the planet from imminent destruction.

The opening paragraph of the initiative says “the purpose of this initiative is to protect the health and environment of Santa Barbara County — its air and water quality, water supplies, agricultural lands, scenic vistas and quality of life — by prohibiting the use of any land in the county’s unincorporated area for High-Intensity Oil Operations. High-Intensity Oil Operations include hydraulic fracturing (AKA fracking), acid well stimulation treatments, cyclic steam injections and other types of oil and gas development that use advanced well stimulation technologies.”

That statement describes all of the oil extraction methods used in the county — thus end game of the initiative appears to be to ban all oil operations. Oh, fracking isn’t now and won’t be one of the methods used because it isn’t feasible in this geological area.

Lately there have been many meetings and workshops to try to flesh out the details since this action will likely result in what is known as a “taking” of private property and may result in hundreds of millions of dollars of compensation for the loss of use that would be paid to private land owners by taxpayers — that’s you and me.

When asked during a recent public workshop how many wells in current production would be impacted by Measure P, the answer was 100 percent. And concerning potential “taking” lawsuits, the county attorney is asking for two additional full-time lawyers just to handle the caseload.

Now to the “not to worry, we’ll take care of you” component of this process; the county Planning and Development Department is going to try to develop policies and interpret what the measure means so they can provide voters some level of assurance that nothing bad is going to happen.

“Prohibiting the use of any land in the county’s unincorporated area for High-Intensity Oil Operations” doesn’t provide much wiggle room and can’t be interpreted any other way than to mean you can’t use your property for oil operations.

You may remember that a few weeks ago P&D informed a Santa Ynez woman who painted in her barn for the last 15 years that she had committed two violations of the county planning rules: unpermitted conversion of a barn into an artist studio, and unpermitted home occupation.

Since she sold two paintings in the last year by mail and occasionally allowed visitors to watch her paint, they determined that this constituted a business and not only would she have to obtain costly permits but she would also have to do significant modifications to her barn.

Considering how this artist was treated for practicing what many would consider a hobby in her own barn, would you trust P&D to make any interpretation of Measure P that favored the oil industry?

So, what is the hazard of oil production? Spills, you say. OK, what if you knew that UCSB scientists, using sophisticated sonar devices and mathematical models estimate that each day an astonishing 4,895 gallons of crude oil and 71 tons of methane gas escape in our county without any mistakes being made by those nasty oil producers! Nature does it all alone.

If these figures are relatively accurate — and who could doubt an official U.S. government report prepared by UCSB researchers? — that means that about 1.78 million gallons of oil are released naturally in the Santa Barbara Channel each year. That’s over 80 million gallons, which is 80 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska that has been released since 1969!

Has this adversely impacted the quality of life on the beaches of Santa Barbara? Apparently not. The tourists still visit and the homeless still camp out, don’t they?

Another claim is that the water table will be contaminated if we don’t stop oil production immediately. Oil production has existed in our county for over a century, and steam injection has been commonly used to help extract the oil for at least 50 years.

Even though there have been many accidental releases of oil to the environment, how many reports do you know of that indicate that the water table, quality of life or agriculture in the Santa Maria or Cuyama valleys or anywhere else in Santa Barbara County has suffered any permanent damage as a result of oil operations?

If there were any such reports, you can bet your bottom dollar that those ever vigilant environmentalists would be waiving them at every public meeting and press conference concerning this subject.

This initiative is just another try to ban all oil operations in our county. Think for yourself, use logic and then vote no on Measure P.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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