On Thursday, Santa Barbara County Water Guardians, a grassroots group of concerned local citizens, turned in approximately 20,000 signatures in support of an initiative petition to prohibit land uses related to fracking, cyclic steam injection and other high-intensity petroleum operations within the unincorporated area of Santa Barbara County.
The initiative aims to protect the county’s air, water and health in light of a planned expansion of these practices by oil companies.
More than 300 volunteers collectively worked for 2,500 hours over just three weeks to collect petition signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot. The County Registrar of Voters must certify at least 13,201 of the signatures collected for the initiative to qualify. Once the signatures are certified, the Board of Supervisors can elect to adopt the initiative or put the measure on the ballot for voters to decide this November.
The measure is widely supported by a broad coalition of Santa Barbara farmers, community groups and environmental organizations.
“At a time when our water resources are under huge stress due to the historic drought, it would be crazy to allow fracking to happen here. Both water quality and our limited resources would be at risk,” said farmer Tom Shepherd of Shepherd Farms in Gaviota and the Santa Ynez Valley.
As oil companies plan to expand the use of high-intensity petroleum operations to extract oil and gas from the Monterey Shale and other formations across Santa Barbara County, public concerns grow. Chemicals involved in many of these operations are associated with serious health problems such as cancer and birth defects. The increased emission of air pollutants has been tied to a greater risk of respiratory illnesses like asthma and to reduced agricultural yields. The threatened proliferation of new wells also threatens the County’s famed scenic vistas, robust tourism industry and quality of life.
“We are encouraged by the high level of volunteer participation and enthusiastic public response to our efforts,” said Rebecca Claassen of Santa Barbara County Water Guardians. “Santa Barbara County residents get it: these extreme oil extraction techniques carry a much higher risk than the traditional pumping that has taken place in the county for decades. The trade-offs associated with fracking and cyclic steam injection are simply not worth gambling on when our limited water supplies are at risk.”
Expanding high-intensity petroleum operations would compete with agricultural and public uses for Santa Barbara County’s limited water supplies. With reports of groundwater contamination in four states related to these operations, local farms and wineries could be devastated if a well casing fails or wastewater is mismanaged. Activities associated with these advanced drilling practices have also been linked to increased seismic activity, which is concerning for a county that sits on a number of active fault lines.
“Santa Barbara County’s long-term economic prosperity and public health could be at risk if these extreme drilling practices become widespread in our region,” said Katie Davis, also of the Santa Barbara County Water Guardians. “The latest studies about fracking show that public health and safety risks are real and that claims of job creation associated with well stimulation are significantly overblown.”
If approved by voters in November, the initiative would protect public health and natural areas in Santa Barbara County by amending the Santa Barbara County Comprehensive Plan and related codes to prohibit the use of any land within the County’s unincorporated area for fracking and other high-intensity petroleum operations. The initiative includes provisions to protect vested rights and constitutionally protected property rights.
Measures to ban fracking and high-intensity petroleum operations have been adopted in New Mexico, Colorado and New York to protect public health and safeguard natural resources. In California, a growing number of cities and counties are moving toward enacting temporary moratoria and/or permanent bans on extreme well stimulation practices within their jurisdictions. Municipalities including Arroyo Grande, Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Butte County, Carson, Compton, Culver City, Fairfax, Los Angeles, Marin County, San Luis Obispo, San Benito County, Santa Cruz County and San Francisco have taken action or signaled plans to oppose fracking.
The San Francisco law firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, which has extensive experience in land use and environmental issues, and attorney Nathan Alley of Limestone Law & Policy Advocates drafted the Santa Barbara measure.
— Severn Williams represents Santa Barbara County Water Guardians.