Santa Barbara County decision-makers were forced to take a realistic look at how to efficiently fuel America for the long haul Friday during a summit that offered opinions from some several experts studying the subject.
Policy experts, economists and local officials filled a ballroom at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott in Buellton for the all-day California Energy Action Summit, hosted by the Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County (EconNSBC).
Tasked with keeping open minds and coming to their own conclusions, audience members listened as experts delved into a focused dialogue about alternative energy technologies, onshore oil and gas opportunities, and how either could directly impact the state and Santa Barbara County.
Keynote speaker and former Houston Mayor Bill White talked about everything from the basic definition of petroleum to energy sustainability and diversifying the world’s oil supply.
“Human beings will want to fill up their cars with gasoline,” said White, also a former U.S. deputy secretary of energy. “The oil is going to be produced somewhere. My own preference is to have the petroleum produced in the United States.”
White pointed to Houston’s successful effort to de-link the growth of energy consumption from the growth of the local economy.
As a result, more jobs were created and less electricity was consumed – something White said he’d love to see the Santa Barbara County region replicate.
He applauded California’s efforts to raise its vehicle-emissions standards, suggesting that fuel economy standards could be key to the energy debate, but not offering to what extent.
Although White noted the many uses of renewable energy sources, he stopped short of allowing them equal footing in the debate.
“The problem is the sun or the wind doesn’t always blow when you turn on the light switch,” he said. “There’s no reason that modern drilling practices need to have any impact on water, air, soil.”
Job creation and education were also critical issues found in results of the UCSB Santa Barbara County Onshore Oil and Gas Economic Study that was commissioned by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.
While chamber CEO Bob Hatch touted the study as a way to communicate to politicians the potential economic benefits of the local oil industry, an economist and director of the study offered a different opinion.
“People want to have high incomes and buy cheap things, period,” said Peter Rupert, chairman of UCSB’s Department of Economics. “It’s our fault. It’s not the politicians’ fault.”
A survey of large county oil producers shows the industry employs 715 people directly, with another 912 indirectly.
Rupert said the industry generates $280 million annually. Broken down, that’s $1.88 for every dollar spent – not bad for being in a battered economy with slow and varied growth, mostly in the areas of mining and technology.
He reiterated that energy efficiency could be improved through better education and tax policies.
“This is all money that gets put into our community,” he said. “The goal is develop policies that promote growth.”