A proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing, acidizing and other oil-and-gas production operations will go to Santa Barbara County voters in November.
The Santa Barbara County Water Guardians gathered enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot, and the county Board of Supervisors decided Friday not to adopt the ban outright.
The board won’t take a position on the proposed ordinance, but individual members may be involved in ballot arguments on either side, as they were for Measure M.
The initiative would ban so-called “high-intensity” petroleum operations: well-stimulation treatments such as hydraulic fracturing and acid treatments, and secondary or enhanced recovery operations that include methods such as cyclic steaming and the injection of water, wastewater or carbon dioxide produced during the course of oil operations.
If passed by voters, the measure would limit onshore operations in unincorporated areas of the county and would limit onshore production of offshore oil and gas reservoirs, according to the county counsel.
Santa Barbara County had 1,167 onshore wells operating last year, which produced 4.3 million barrels of oil — or 180.6 million gallons.
No local wells currently use hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, or the other well-stimulation treatments that would be banned by this proposed ordinance.
The county has had wells that were “fracked” in the past, but there have been no applications since 2011, when a “soft ban” was put in place with a strict application process, Lavagnino said.
However, 100 percent of active wells use at least one of the secondary or enhanced-recovery operation methods, at least for well maintenance, said Dennis Bozanich, assistant to the county executive officer.
Some of the methods that would be limited, such as injecting chemicals into a well, are used widely now for maintenance or for an enhanced production operation, county staff said. It all depends on whether it’s done under pressure.
The county has 903 anticipated wells in the pipeline, and 89 percent of them would use petroleum operations of the type described in the measure.
Existing wells would be allowed status-quo operations within their vested rights, and companies could apply for exemptions on a case-by-case basis, according to the proposed ordinance.
If this ordinance is approved by voters, the trend would go toward reduced petroleum production in the county over time, according to a county staff report.
The Auditor-Controller’s office will develop a fiscal-impact statement for the ballot materials, but said the oil production companies pay $16.4 million in local property taxes, which is 2.65 percent of the total tax roll.
Bozanich said the county also considered the broader impacts of the oil-and-gas industry, which were estimated at $291.4 million by the UCSB Economic Impact Project report. The industry also provides for an estimated 1.07 percent of the county’s jobs.
The supervisors had concerns with the staff report and didn’t file it, but decided to put the ordinance to voters instead of adopting it on Friday.
Before making the decision, 100 speakers from both sides addressed the board, which was meeting in Santa Maria.