Santa Barbara County Water Guardians, a grassroots group of concerned local citizens, filed a notice of intent Tuesday with the Santa Barbara County Registrar to circulate an initiative petition within the County of Santa Barbara to protect the county’s air, water and health by prohibiting land uses related to fracking, cyclic steam injection and other high-intensity petroleum operations.
As oil companies plan to expand the use of high-intensity petroleum operations to extract oil and gas from the Monterey Shale and other formations across Santa Barbara County, public concerns grow.
Chemicals involved in many of these operations are associated with serious health problems such as cancer and birth defects. The increased emission of air pollutants has been tied to a greater risk of asthma attacks and reduced agricultural yields. At the same time, the threatened proliferation of new wells threatens the county’s famed scenic vistas, robust tourism industry and quality of life.
Expanding high-intensity petroleum operations will also compete with agricultural and public uses for Santa Barbara County’s limited water supplies. With reports of groundwater contamination in four states related to these operations, Santa Barbara’s local farms and wineries could be devastated if a well casing fails or wastewater is mismanaged. Activities associated with these advanced drilling practices have also been linked to increased seismic activity, which is concerning for a county that sits on a number of active fault lines.
“Using these technologies, the petroleum industry would gain increased access to oil resources lying below our homes, farms and natural areas,” said Rebecca Claassen of Santa Barbara County Water Guardians. “The impacts and risks associated with high-intensity petroleum operations are too great for Santa Barbara County residents to accept. In order to protect local resources and interests, we want to prohibit this land use before it further endangers human health and the environment in Santa Barbara County.”
The initiative will protect the health and environment of Santa Barbara County by amending the Santa Barbara County Comprehensive Plan and related codes to prohibit the use of any land within the County’s unincorporated area for fracking and other high-intensity petroleum operations. The initiative includes provisions to protect vested rights and constitutionally protected property rights.
Upon the County Registrar’s certification that proponents have secured the requisite number of signatures on the petition, the Board of Supervisors can elect to adopt the initiative or put the measure on the ballot for voters to decide this November. The measure is widely supported by a broad coalition of Santa Barbara community groups and environmental organizations.
Measures to ban fracking and high-intensity petroleum operations have been adopted in New Mexico, Colorado and New York, to protect public health and safeguard natural resources. In California, residents of San Benito County are also circulating an initiative petition to ban high-intensity petroleum operations in that county. With extensive experience in land use and environmental issues, the San Francisco law firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP drafted the Santa Barbara and San Benito measures.