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Group Pushes for Ballot Measure to Ban Fracking in Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara County Water Guardians is behind the effort, with volunteers out in force gathering thousands of signatures

An army of volunteers has been working to gather signatures outside of Trader Joe's and among crowds meandering through local farmers markets over the past few weeks, wearing bright blue T-shirts that read "Ban Fracking in Santa Barbara County."

That's exactly what they're trying to do by gathering the 13,200 verified signatures needed to put a ballot measure before voters this fall in Santa Barbara County, asking them to ban certain oil extraction methods that have been controversial.

The group Santa Barbara County Water Guardians is behind the move, and the ballot language it is proposing wouldn't prevent conventional drilling techniques, but unconventional or "high intensity" techniques, including hydraulic fracturing, acidizing and steam injection.

The ballot measure would only cover onshore oil operations — offshore are within state and federal waters — and only in the incorporated areas of the county. It also wouldn't apply to existing projects.

Noozhawk sat down with volunteer Katie Davis, who estimates she has gathered about 500 signatures, and even signed up someone to gather names during the interview.

Davis said the group is gearing up to have a massive presence at the Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival this weekend, which will take place Saturday and Sunday at Alameda Park.

"Earth Day is our final hurrah," Davis said, adding that 200 volunteers have gathered more than 13,000 signatures and are aiming for 18,000 so that they'll have enough after the verification process takes place. "When you think about the amount of hours people have donated, it's really amazing."

While the ban wouldn't apply to offshore operations, "we can ban it from the bluffs and beaches," she said, adding that slant drilling that goes horizontally from onshore could be banned under the ballot measure if approved.

The county requires that oil companies notify it if fracking is going on, and since that requirement was put in, no one has come forward to say they're doing it, Davis said.

Even if there's no fracking taking place in the county now, Davis said fracking is taking place offshore and near the Ventura/Santa Barbara County line.

"That is a real risk because you've got proposed wells offshore Carpinteria in Ellwood, and Vandenberg is talking about it," she said. "It's fair to be concerned and want to head it off."

County supervisors could decide to enact the law or put on the ballot in November once they are presented with the signatures.

Several counties and cities in California have already banned the practice, including Santa Cruz and Marin counties as well as the City of Los Angeles.

Davis comes from a business background — she was part of ExpertCity, which was bought by Citrix Online, and her husband, Albert Oaten, also has been involved with several successful startup companies — and said it's not just "crazy environmentalists" who are out pushing for a ban.

Davis argues that oil companies overstate the jobs that would be created, while putting the rest of the economy at risk.

"It doesn't play well with agriculture because they're polluting water, it doesn't play well for tourism because it's ugly and causes smog and risks polluting beaches and water," she said.

The group has raised concerns about water and air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, water use for wells during a time of drought, and earthquakes.

"We have coexisted with oil for a long time, and we'll continue to produce oil in this region," David said, "but we can't afford to dramatically ramp up production using these risky techniques."

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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