Thursday, November 26 , 2015, 1:56 pm | Fair 60º

County Supervisors Hear from Public Divided Over Ballot Initiative to Ban Fracking

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

In front of a room so packed there were fire marshal concerns, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors got an earful Tuesday about a ballot initiative that most likely will go before voters asking them to ban fracking in the county.

The measure, spearheaded by the 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.

Though the county hasn't documented any fracking projects currently, the group has been working to prevent future activity.  

Representatives have been gathering signatures at local events and farmers markets, and Registrar of Voters Joe Holland announced at Tuesday's meeting that 19,098 signatures were turned in at the beginning of May, and that 16,030 were valid, exceeding the number needed to put the measure before voters in November.

The supervisors ultimately voted to have staff study the impacts of the measure and then come back on June 13 to decide whether to approve the measure outright or put before voters.

The meeting's public comment illustrated clearly that the county is deeply divided on its energy policy; the initiative promises to be a heated one, and may come down to voters between North County and South County.  

Many North County residents with jobs in the oil industry spoke out, saying the ballot initiative, if passed, could cost them their jobs.

Sandra Burkhart of the Western States Petroleum Association asked the board to do the study, and ended her comments on a personal note. She said she's a single mother with a 6-month-old daughter, and both of their futures would be impacted if the initiative passes.

Edward Hazard, a mineral rights owner in the county, said many people rely on royalties from the mineral rights to survive.

"We are willing to defend our rights by any legal means necessary," he said.

Several members of the Water Guardians in the North County and South County also spoke on behalf of the initiative, wearing their blue shirts, urging the county to scrutinize the claims of the oil industry.

Another speaker, a Ventura resident, said Venoco Inc., which has several operations in Santa Barbara County, was already fracking in Ventura and that Santa Barbara County "was at a crossroads."

After Supervisor Peter Adam peppered county counsel with areas to study, including legal and economic risk, several South County supervisors stepped in, maintaining the same amount of study should be done for the fracking initiative as was done for Adam's ballot measure, Measure M.

Before the vote, Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he felt the initiative was misguided and would hurt local families.

"I think this should be renamed the anti-family act," he said, gesturing to the people in the room. "These are not your corporate suits."

Supervisor Salud Carbajal got in the last word, and said that although he generally disagrees with initiatives, he applauds Adam's effort to gather signatures as well as the effort of the Water Guardians.

"This will work itself out in the ballot box," he said.

The next meeting on the issue is scheduled for 9 a.m. June 13 in Santa Maria. 

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.

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