Paul Wellman (file)

Clean Energy: A Crop to Harvest

Wednesday, September 11, 2013
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Increased fossil fuel production and climate change are poised to hit local agriculture hard. Could these twin threats imperil our area’s agricultural economy?

Agriculture, tourism, and wine make up the largest segment of our economy, directly employing 15 percent of Santa Barbara County’s workforce, according to a study commissioned by Santa Barbara County’s Workforce Investment Board. In 2012 agricultural production in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties was over $2 billion.

But all of that could change rapidly as our top crops — strawberries and wine — are vulnerable to climate change. According to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, California could lose 70 percent of its wine growing area by mid-century due to climate change. The study includes a map of areas currently suitable for vineyards and likely losses as temperatures rise. The red-lined areas include most of inland Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. The study also points out that as temperatures increase there will be a need for more irrigation which will imperil already limited freshwater supplies in California.

A certain amount of adaptation is possible, but if we don’t reduce global emissions and head off the worst of global warming, California agriculture will face an increasingly harsh environment of decreasing yields and escalating costs.

The other threat to California agriculture comes from an oil boom made possible by new technologies such as fracking and steam injection. The largest shale oil reserve in the country, the Monterey Shale, runs right through our area, and farmers who don’t own their mineral rights could find themselves powerless to prevent drilling under their land. This happened to landowners in Los Alamos in 2011 where wells were fracked under their ranch and vineyard without permission.

In North Dakota where a shale oil boom is in full swing, some unlucky farmers have seen their land contaminated, livestock die, and property values lost. Scientific American recently reported that high levels of arsenic have been found in groundwater near fracking sites in Texas’s Barnett Shale. A steam injection well in Canada — similar to ones planned in Santa Maria — has leaked 280,022 gallons of oil across 51 acres since June and no solution has been found to stop it thus far.

These new drilling techniques are also extremely water and energy intensive so an oil boom here contributes to the larger threat of climate change and water shortages. For instance, the Santa Maria Energy project proposal to build 136 wells just south of Santa Maria would use 300,000 gallons of water a day, diverting wastewater from irrigation, and simply running the injection wells would generate as much greenhouse gas emissions as 17,000+ cars.

So what can the agricultural community do to head off these dual threats? The answer is to organize and pressure government to ban the worst and most energy-intensive oil production and to adopt more aggressive climate change policies.

Farmers would benefit financially from such policies. In places where strong clean energy standards have been enacted, farmers are among the first to profit. In 2012, 24.5 percent of Iowa’s electricity generation came from wind because the state’s energy policies ensure a market for wind power. Farmers in Iowa see having a wind turbine as just a different type of crop. The same is true in Germany, which has a goal to rely on renewable energy sources for 80 percent of its electricity by 2050. It is on track to achieve this by decentralizing energy production, rewarding people who install solar or wind turbines by paying them for the energy they produce. Again, farmers were among the first to take advantage of this new right. They gain a lucrative new source of income while maintaining the old one.

California is the leading agricultural economy in the world. It can take a lead in preserving that legacy — or live to regret it.

Katie Davis is a presenter with Al Gore's Climate Reality Project and a member of the CEC Partnership Council.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

I'm looking into growing Sugar Cane in Northern Virginia to sell to Alternative Energy producers to process into Ethanol for cleaner fuel.

dou4now (anonymous profile)
September 11, 2013 at 6:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The decrease in available water in CA is not a direct result of a warmer climate, i.e. less precipitation as the author has stated here. In fact, a warmer climate will increase precipitation in moderate and wet climates. The issue as we all know is that Southern California relies heavily on water transports from the north (moderate to wet climate) which gets most of their supply from snow melt held in foothill reservoirs of the Sierra Nevada. As the climate changes (warms up in the case of CA) there will be more precipitation in the form of rain and less as snow in the Sierra Nevada. We need to augment our water infrastructure to capture the projected higher winter runoffs in order to maintain, and possibly increase, or water supply. Aggressive groundwater recharge and conjunctive use will help, but it's really more of a policy issue at the end of the day.

SB2SB (anonymous profile)
September 11, 2013 at 11:51 a.m. (Suggest removal)

This report prepared by a group of elite climatologist, biologist, hydrologist, and politicians (i know, "elite politician") is pretty useful for getting an understanding of where we are and may go.

SB2SB (anonymous profile)
September 11, 2013 at 11:55 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Wasco, CA Farmers Say Fracking Chemicals Contaminate Wells, Kill Almond, Cherry Trees

Video of November 13, 2012 2:00 pm
Kern County Board of Supervisors Hearing, Bakersfield, CA.
Attorney and farmers give testimony to Supervisors about violation of Brown Act, chorine levels tested 14 times normal level in well water, caused by oil industry fracking below orchards to extract oil from the Monterey Shale formation, who have mineral rights to frack without permits below orchards. Cherry and almond orchards have low yields, one with 40 dead trees, ask Board for help. Fracking the Monterey Shale areas began last year on prime farmlands below orchards. Affected farmers are experiencing many problems and intimidation by the oil companies on land owned by these farmers. Oil companies have fenced off acres of the orchards and converting the land to fracking operations. Supervisors neglected to request testing of water wells and aquifers to determine the source, chemicals or extent of contaminant, health department emergency actions, quantitative testing of fruit and nuts for contamination, determine safety of food for consumption or demand fracking be stopped.

The entire hearing on item 1 is about 1 1/2 hours and very informative about oil and fracking companies and the lack of help or any demands for the health department be contacted immediately to investigate, test wells and local aquifers and ground water or to test the produce for chemicals and to certify the produce was safe for consumption before it was sold to wholesale markets for distribution throughout the U.S.

Worth the listen/watch. The farmers aren't against oil they just don't want their farms/animal stock destroyed and it is happening! BigOil there has refused to come to the table or even listen to their own consultants.

Nov Tue 11/13/12 - 2:00PM Regular Meeting PM 07h 32m Minutes Video
Scroll down to November 13, 2012 - 2 pm hearing. Find the video on the line.
Item #1 Starts at just about 5 minutes into the hearing

OffTheBeat (anonymous profile)
September 12, 2013 at 11:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Darn, I guess we'll just have to grow avocados and mangos, then.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
September 13, 2013 at 1:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

native2sb (anonymous profile)
September 20, 2013 at 12:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

There is no fracking happening in Santa Barbara County. Nor will there be any time soon.

Measure P is a deceptive!

Golf courses use up to a million gallons of water a day...are the Water Guardians after them next?

DJ_Jazy_Van_Jones (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 11:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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