Sunday, March 18 , 2018, 2:23 pm | Fair 57º


Irv Beiman: How to Get Involved to Protect Santa Barbara County’s Air, Food and Water

(Conception Media video)

It seems like a no-brainer: We must protect our air, food and water resources from toxic chemicals. If we don’t, we will most likely experience expensive medical bills, unnecessary suffering and premature death.

This is not fear-mongering. I know this first-hand after having lived and worked in China for 20 years from 1993 to 2013.

Why I Care

My wife and I moved to Shanghai in 1993 for professional reasons, and became pioneers in management consulting by establishing China’s first wholly foreign-owned management consultancy. Ten years later, there were 130,000 consulting companies in China.

Our work in the 1990s afforded us opportunities to develop relationships with both staff and clients, with their ages ranging from late 20s to the 50s.

We traveled throughout China, to all of the coastal cities as well as to many cities in the interior of the country.

In those early days, the shift from a centrally planned to a market-driven economy was just getting started, and people were living well into their 80s and 90s.

By 2013, however, more and more were dying prematurely in their 50s. Though we were saddened by this, it seemed less shocking in light of the increasing pollution that was occurring as the Chinese government raced to develop its resources and become a competitive world economy.

This seemed particularly true in Shanghai, where we saw reports about the government making an effort to clean up the industrial chemicals in the water. A new water plant was built at the cost of several billion Rmb, the equivalent of more than $300 million USD.

The government learned through their efforts to improve water quality that chemicals were leaking into the water distribution pipe system. There was nothing they could do about the pipes, but they did take effective action to reduce ongoing industrial pollution in the city. Industrial production facilities were moved out of Shanghai to reduce both air and water pollution.

Here in Santa Barbara County, we have clear choices about the actions we take that will either protect our air, food and water resources, or slowly poison us from hazardous chemicals.

Locally, our elected representatives on the Board of Supervisors hold the decision-making power for much of our agricultural lands and open spaces. They are our public servants. Therefore, it is our responsibility to tell them what kind of a county we choose to live in. This is not an easy task because it requires us, first and foremost, to become informed.

Currently there are three pending requests for more than 700 new oil wells in the county. These are at various stages of environmental review.

The county Planning Commission will likely consider these requests for new oil wells in the coming months. If approved, these wells could use a variety of extreme oil extraction methods, including fracking and steam injection.

These extreme methods inject a wide variety of toxic chemicals into the earth. This can vastly increase the risk of poisoning the air we breathe and the aquifers from which we drink and irrigate our food.

Becoming Informed

There is much conflicting information about the safety of oil and gas drilling and its environmental impacts. How can we separate fact from fiction? Two informative events were recently held in Solvang and Santa Barbara, co-sponsored by three concerned organizations: Food & Water Watch, Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN) and Safe Energy Now! North Santa Barbara County.

The highest quality and easiest to obtain oil has already been taken from the ground in Santa Barbara County. What’s left is of lower quality and harder to extract. To do so will likely require some form of fracking, steam injection or acidization process. This process will use toxic chemicals and millions of gallons of water.

Herein lie the problems:

» These chemicals can toxify our aquifers and the air we breathe.

» We do not have millions of gallons of water to waste forcing oil out the ground. Once used, this water becomes toxic wastewater that must be disposed of.

» Currently this toxic wastewater is either injected back into the ground where it can again enter our aquifers or it is used on agricultural crops.

» In both instances, this oil and gas wastewater disposal is happening without our knowledge of where or how it is taking place.

Oil company representatives insist their methods are safe — so safe they are unwilling to disclose the chemicals used to extract the oil and gas. However, research indicates that benzene, toluene, xylene and radioactive isotopes are among the toxic substances used. These and many other toxic chemicals are used in numerous routine, unregulated oil- and gas-field activities, such as the drilling, cleaning and maintenance of wells, according to a recently published study in PLOS ONE.

Further, thanks to the Halliburton loophole that creates an exemption from existing rules, oil and gas companies can inject petroleum-based chemicals into the ground without obtaining a permit.

» The World Health Organization says that exposure to benzene is a major public health concern that has been associated with a range of acute and long-term adverse health effects and diseases, including cancer and aplastic anaemia.

Another ploy used by oil companies is to claim that deep drilling underground does not pose a risk to aquifers that are closer to the surface. What they don’t explain is that many of these wells go directly through an aquifer.

» Steel corrodes and cement casings can develop cracks that increase the possibility of toxic chemical leakage entering and poisoning our underground aquifers.

» We live in a high earthquake-fault area where the earth moves and shifts ever so slightly, causing cracks to form in the underground layers of rock. Steam injection under pressure causes toxic chemicals to migrate through these cracks to other locations — sideways, up and down — including to our aquifers.

In the minds of the oil and gas company executives, this is a small risk, and well worth the price that the public would pay so they can make greater profit. From their perspective, it’s short-term money for them versus long-term health deterioration for us.

In other words, the public is the only loser. I confess, as a psychologist this seems absolutely insane to me.

What You Can Do to Create a Better Future

As previously mentioned, for 20 years I lived in a communist country that looked at this very equation and chose profit. I saw the effects of China’s policy priorities on its people.

The public in China is more informed now. People are pressuring the government to clean up the air and water.

We live under a different governance system in our country. We have a right to clean and safe food, water and energy. We must stand up for a better future for our health and quality of life, and for future generations.

Let’s be clear: Clean water is essential for life. The first step is to get informed. Read and learn. Share information with your friends and neighbors, and in your digital networks. Get involved. We need all the help possible to protect our food, air and water.

Contact our county Board of Supervisors and tell them to protect our air and water from toxic chemicals by denying these 700 new oil and gas well permit requests, and denying any requests to frack, steam inject or use any other extreme extraction methods.

Don’t be fooled by oil and gas propaganda. Our health is at stake. Our economy is at stake. Our property values are at stake.

Let’s create a better future together by denying new oil and gas permits and supporting a rapid transition to alternative renewable energy sources that are safe and resilient.

— Irv Beiman Ph.D. is a Santa Ynez Valley resident and founding board member of Safe Energy Now! North Santa Barbara County, a coalition concerned about the threats to our water and health posed by unsafe oil industry operations and working to encourage safer, renewable energy. He can be reached at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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