Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 8:45 am | Overcast 66º


Irv Beiman: Are You Ready For Better? Oil Wells, Water & Wellness

As a resident of northern Santa Barbara County, I have been enormously impressed with the Santa Ynez Valley’s beautiful scenery, vineyards, farms and ranches. The clean air, pleasant climate and locally grown food is a blessing for someone like me who lived and worked in heavily polluted Shanghai, China, for two decades.

After spending 20 years in a country that was using high sulfur dirty coal to power its enormous world-changing economic development, I was already sensitized to what pollution can do to the public’s health.

I learned that burning dirty coal spews harmful amounts of lead, cadmium, mercury and other pollutants into the air. Those harmful chemicals fall on waterways and crops, permeating the food chain.

We breathed, drank and ate this stuff for way too long.

People in China used to live long and well, riding their bicycles, boiling their water and eating mostly chemical-free food. Now, though, instead of dying of old age in their 80s and 90s, it’s not unusual for them to be diagnosed with cancer in their 50s. They don’t live very long after that.

This led my wife and me to do Internet research and spend our vacations investigating where to live when we entered active retirement. Over a seven-year period we checked out Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia; Portland; Seattle; Austin, Texas; and Asheville and Chapel Hill, N.C. We also considered Europe, Thailand and New Zealand.

We finally settled on Santa Barbara County. It seemed to be the ideal place to live.

Lately, though, I have become concerned about what may be risks to our health and wellness amid this natural beauty. The Porter Ranch fiasco in Southern California put underground gas and oil wells on the media radar screen.

The Refugio oil spill was a wake-up call that shocked Santa Barbara residents. The North County was also disturbed by the oil spill, but the mountains separating us from the coast seemed to soften the Santa Ynez Valley’s concern.

We didn’t know about the oil wells that already exist in the county when we moved here; there may be close to 1,000 of them. When I heard there were permits pending for another 700-800 oil wells, I began to wonder how that might affect our dwindling underground water supplies.

Then I began reading about “produced water” from the oil wells and I wondered whether any of the chemicals in that water might be toxifying our underground water aquifers or making their way into our local food supply.

When I learned about the “Halliburton Rule” that established those chemicals as a trade secret not subject to public disclosure I became more concerned. I wondered why do we seem to know and understand so little about the relationship of oil wells to water quality and our health?

These concerns increased my interest in meeting other concerned North County citizens who might be able to provide some answers to my questions.

I found a group that was beginning to meet and share information. This group of concerned citizens from Lompoc, Buellton, Santa Ynez, Los Alamos, Santa Maria and Orcutt has been meeting for many months, trying to get answers to all sorts of questions about oil wells, water and wellness. I joined them to learn more.

The first tangible result of these meetings will be an info share event at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 24, at the Los Alamos Valley Senior Center, 690 Bell St. in Los Alamos. The group is called Safe Energy Now for North County and the event is called Oil Wells, Water & Wellness.

Three well-qualified speakers will share their knowledge and experience:

» Tim Krantz Ph.D., professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Redlands, has close to 40 years of environmental and land-use planning experience. He was awarded a Fulbright Lecturer position to facilitate environmental technology and policy exchange between the United States and Europe with a focus on California and Austria.

» Dr. Rebecca Claassen is an organizer with Food & Water Watch. She grew up in Orcutt with an abandoned, leaking oil well in her backyard.

» Dr. Kevin Beckmen will speak on the health effects of the chemicals that have been identified as a risk. He is a California board-certified family physician who has been practicing in the North County for almost 20 years.

Each of these speakers will present information of interest to local residents. I’m looking forward to learning what these three professionals will have to say about the North County’s oil wells, water and wellness. There will be an opportunity for questions after their brief presentations.

Rebecca August has been facilitating this North County group of concerned citizens who are seeking to learn more about what’s going on, what are the risks and how might those risks be mitigated.

Click here for more information about Safe Energy Now for North County. Click here for more information about the April 24 Oil Wells, Water & Wellness forum.

— Irv Beiman Ph.D. is a Santa Ynez Valley resident and board member of Safe Energy Now!, an alliance of North Santa Barbara County residents, groups and businesses concerned about the threats to our water and health posed by unsafe oil industry operations and working to encourage safer, renewable energy. The opinions expressed are his own.

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