Ever since county officials were caught off guard by news in early May that Veneco Inc. was using “fracking” techniques to extract oil from two separate leases just outside Los Alamos, the supervisors have been on a fact-finding mission to better understand the controversial yet common chemical and water injection process, the multi-jurisdictional permitting protocol related to it, and the county’s potential ability to curb its use here in Santa Barbara. To that end, the supervisors held the second in a three-part series of hearings on the topic this week and invited folks from the state’s Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) along with their governing entity, the state’s Department of Conservation, to join in.
Elena Miller, whose agency DOGGR has “down hole” authority on all things on-shore oil drilling-related and, as such, issues the permits required for any type of drilling, be it “fracking” or otherwise, explained that while California has an Underground Injection Control program and also requires a broad amount of information about the nature of drilling a company is applying to do, there are no specific permit triggers for people looking to frack. “This is basically the problem nationwide right now,” said Miller. That being said, she added that her department specifically evaluates potential drilling projects for their engineering integrity and what, if any, potential threat they may pose to ground-water quality—something that critics say is all too likely when fracking is used. Miller added that, at least as far as the Santa Barbara County fracking is concerned, she had reason to believe that no negative impacts were made on the quality of drinking water in the area.
For their part, the supes, albeit to varying degrees, were less than thrilled by the lack of fracking-specific oversight, a view ever present during a lengthy public comment period. Ultimately, they decided to continue discussion until September 20, while in the meantime directing county staff to continue working with oil industry folks to craft a workable path for how exactly the county can regulate fracking locally via the permitting process, and what the feasibility is of imposing a fracking moratorium county-wide until the state and federal governments develop their own standards.