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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 5:41 am | Fair 42º


Letter to the Editor: Measure P — a Nonindustry Evaluation

In November, we in Santa Barbara County will vote on Measure P, the ballot proposal that would ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing in this county.

The well-funded oil and gas companies, their paid PR people and other supporters, are now posting here and elsewhere numerous attacks on the nature of this ballot proposal.

The commonly-used practices of these contributors, and the nature of the drilling procedure they hope to spread to our community, should be examined.

A sample of the integrity of oil and gas conglomerates can be found in the recent exposure (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 14) of their illegal use in 12 states of diesel — known by the Environmental Protection Agency to contain carcinogens and neurotoxins — in the fracking process. No permits in these states for such use were ever issued.

In each fracked well, at least 5,000 gallons of a cocktail of chemicals is added to the million gallons of previously fresh water used. This fracking fluid is pumped, under great pressure through pipes which go down through a community's underground water table. If a pipe passing through that aquifer cracks, the leaked toxins will foul the water beyond safe human use.

Chris Wrather, chairman of the Los Alamos Planning Commission Advisory Board and owner of a horse farm in the north county community, has said, “We in the valley don't get our water from pipes, we get it from wells drilled into the aquifer. Should that water be contaminated by leaked fracking fluid, for us it would be the end of our business, the end of our property value, the end of our home.”

Oil/gas companies will not disclose the names and precise mixtures of the chemicals they use in fracking; they claim it is “proprietary” information, vital to keep secret for their business success. We do know, however, that among those in the mix are heavy metals, radioactive materials and hazardous air pollutants such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

An effort to force disclosure of the chemicals may actually be misdirected energy. Bob Fields, president of a Santa Ynez Valley water company has said, “In order to test for water contamination, you have to know what you're testing for. The cost to test for a single chemical would cost about $3,000 and you'd probably want to do it at least once a year. One study of fracking fluid showed about 750 different chemicals, 29 of which are known carcinogens or otherwise controlled by the EPA. Few water companies could afford to do thorough effective testing.”

Certainly one of the most pressing concerns in the use of this procedure is the “safe” disposal of the toxic fracking fluid sent back up through the pipes. It often sits in surface ponds for weeks and, through venting or flaring, emits tons of pollutants, including nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide, into the atmosphere.

Would you like to live nearby?

Typically, the millions of gallons of “used” fluids are loaded into tanker trucks and sent to be disposed of - somewhere. Though this material is as poisonous and hazardous as one can imagine, the Federal government does not label it as such and its destination deposits are not subject to oversight or regulation except as “solid waste.” Where in our county would you like this material to be dumped or “injected”?

Estimated truck traffic for a single well is between 300 to 1,300 trucks. These trucks are large emitters of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. Would you like to live on one of the streets or roads these vehicles would travel 24 hours a day?

Of the many thousands of tanker trucks carrying toxic fracking fluids over our roads and highways, should one overturn and spill its contents into a river, that water can never again safely be used by humans.

In rural Pennsylvania, one such truck accidentally dumped its fracking fluid into the pond of Mr. and Mrs. Truman Benet. It killed everything in the pond: fish, frogs, turtles. The Benets were then told that the water supply of their home now had high concentrations of lead; not to drink it or bathe in it. So the Benet's retirement-home-dream had changed “from our heaven to our hell.”

This is a scenario the proponents of fracking do not publicize.

Publicly owned water treatment facilities are not equipped to handle fracking waste waters, especially the radioactive materials. A New York Times article revealed the presence of excessive levels of radium, uranium and benzene in rivers and streams due to improper treatment at facilities prior to discharging waste water into surface waters.

It no longer needs any serious discussion that the accumulation of carbon dioxide and methane in our atmosphere is causing the planet to heat up with increasingly disastrous effect. Cornell University's Professor of Engineering Tony Ingraffia, called “one of the world's leading pioneers in fracture mechanics,” said in 2012 that Cornell was releasing a study, to be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, that would prove conclusively that, over its life-cycle, in terms of CO2 and methane emissions, the production of oil/gas through means such as hydraulic fracturing “is as dirty as coal.”

In one of its many profound disgraces, the Federal government has exempted fracking fluid from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act; this the result of then Vice President Cheney's influence.

The federal government, in fact, has done almost nothing to protect us from the devastation fracking can cause. Pennsylvania has completely given in to the oil/gas companies, despite the industry's own estimate there that there will be “one serious environmental concern” for each 150 wells drilled. New York State has in place a moratorium on fracking; the state's lower courts have ruled it legal for its communities to ban the practice. Governor Brown, for whatever reasons, has offered free reign to the oil/gas conglomerates in this state.

So it's up to us in this community to protect ourselves. As Chris Wrather put it, “If you don't know the likelihood of an accident occurring, but you do know that if the accident occurs the result will be devastating, you err on the side of caution.”

Voting yes on Measure P will give us that caution and that protection.

To those whose overriding priority is the money to be made from hydraulic fracturing on their property or in their neighborhood, one can only suggest that they find ways to make money that don't threaten the health and safety of our families and our neighbors.

William Smithers
Santa Barbara

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