Volunteers gather for Water Guardians' grassroots campaign to add a November ballot measure to ban fracking in the county


Volunteers gather for Water Guardians' grassroots campaign to add a November ballot measure to ban fracking in the county

Fracking Ban Critical for Climate

Potential Well Projects Could Emit 4.9 Million Tons of GHG

Tuesday, April 22, 2014
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World powers are running out of time to slash their use of high-polluting fossil fuels and stay below agreed limits on global warming. This is the conclusion of a U.N. study released last week at a meeting of government officials and climate scientists in Berlin.

Santa Barbara County voters will likely have a chance to choose whether they want to be a part of the solution or part of the problem. An organization called the Water Guardians is currently collecting signatures to qualify an initiative for the November ballot to ban fracking and other high-intensity petroleum production in Santa Barbara County. Whether this effort succeeds or fails will likely determine greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade in our county — a critical period during which we need to reduce emissions in order to head off the worst impacts of climate change.

The Water Guardians Initiative proposes to ban high-intensity oil production: Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which water, chemicals, and sand are blasted underground to break up the rock and extract oil; acidizing, which adds hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid to dissolve the rock to extract oil; and cyclic steam injection, which uses large amounts of water, steam, and energy to heat the thick, heavy oil so it will flow more readily. There are many local environmental concerns with these techniques, which can lead to air pollution and water contamination, and expansion of these techniques would also lead to large increases in greenhouse gas emissions in the county.

Unlike in other parts of the country where fracking for natural gas occurs — natural gas produces less carbon dioxide when burned than coal and oil — in California, the fracking of the Monterey Shale is for oil with no potential climate benefit. Since the Monterey Shale formation that extends throughout California is potentially one of the largest shale oil reserves in the country, a ramp-up in unconventional oil production would increase state emissions and hinder the state’s ability to take a lead in reducing emissions and transitioning to cleaner sources of energy.

In Santa Barbara County, one company alone (Santa Maria Energy) has 7,700 possible well locations. Using the same rate of emissions per well as its current well project, that works out to 4,971,029 tons of greenhouse gases per year. That is the equivalent of almost one million cars, and it is nearly three times the total current total countywide emissions. That is just to extract the oil. It doesn’t include additional emissions from transporting, refining, or burning that oil.

That is a staggering number. It means that Santa Barbara County could eliminate 100 percent of its emissions — stop driving, get all our power from solar and wind, eliminate all agricultural emissions — and still triple emissions in the county just from this oil extraction.

Nor is Santa Maria Energy the only company making big investments in these carbon-intensive forms of oil production. One Chinese mining company, Beijing-based Goldleaf Jewelry Co., just invested $665 million and is ramping up production in North County. The Water Guardians Initiative would protect the air, water, and environment that make the county a desirable place to work and live from these outside speculators.

Santa Barbara County should take a lead in rejecting the most polluting forms of oil production and transitioning to clean sources of energy. Of all the things we can do locally in regard to climate change, this would have the highest impact and is critically important at this time. The stakes could not be greater. Our actions now will determine the future livability of the planet.

Dr. Catherine Gautier is professor emerita with the Geography Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara ( She was one of 21 climate scientists who signed a letter to Governor Jerry Brown calling for a halt to fracking and other unconventional well stimulation techniques in the state due to climate concerns. She is also coauthor of a recent academic book on fracking and shale gas extraction published in November 2013 by Odile Jacob, France.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

See Oklahoma, below...

What would you expect to happen when fracking is performed near a major fault? Don't know? Want to experiment?

FirewindII (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 12:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks to Dr. Gaudier for helping to keep this issue in the news . Please , all like minded folks who oppose these high intensity extraction methods , get yourselves to a Water Guardian petition and add your name . You must be a registered voter with a valid physical address where registered.
Earth Day will be a perfect day to come out and sign up . The signature gatherers even have voter registration forms in case you are not registered to vote and want to be. Please help get this initiative on the ballot.

geeber (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 6:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Maybe a geography professor should consult with geology professors as her hyperbolic alarmist statements, make no real sense, unless this woman is trying to run for an office or sell a book. Maybe it is also an inconvenient truth for inane environmentalists who simply oppose oil and gas in that, thanks to hydraulic fracking, U.S. carbon emissions are at their lowest level in 20 years. This tidbit, so obnoxiously ignored by this book-writer / teacher, comes form the UN's ING Report on Climate Change (they called it Global Cooling in the 1970's now it is Global Warming...errr Climate Change) and the liberal's vaunted U.S. EPA. Incidentally for all of those "water Guardians" busy bodies, the EPA also noted that water quality has improved - in 1993 79% of public water systems did not violate contaminate laws - today it is 94%. No where, to repeat no where, has ground water been documented as contaminated from HF or any other oil and gas extraction technique in CA over the past 60 years. It is a lying myth promoted by ignorant anti-business groups and Santa Barbarians should be more intelligent than this book writer teacher gives them credit for. BTW, environmental fatalities have been reduced by 98% since oil and gas started production in this great state. I could refute almost everyone of her statements as hyper-slander and bloated with partisan politics, but for a teacher, who has a doctorate in geography, to champion idiotic and counter-productive nonsense, makes me really wonder about our schools and who the heck they are hiring. Every war last century had blood and oil involved, and not much has changed this century, and it is folks like this woman that border on treason by ignoring the incredible benefits that nature has bestowed on us with carbon fuels (note to the doctor - carbon is what separates humans from rocks, or life from dirt). She should argue her baseless facts to the Marines at Camp Pendleton, who are tasked worldwide with protection and securing our country's energy needs.

Sharris (anonymous profile)
April 23, 2014 at 9:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes, yes - of course. Let's be sure we revert from natural gas powered electricity production and back to coal - so we can unwind the recent *massive* drop in US CO2 emissions (back to 1998 levels) right away!

This incredible reduction in CO2 emissions is 120,000x more than all the solar power and wind generators have contributed to reducing CO2 over the same time period - so OF COURSE we need to ban fracking - it makes PERFECT sense.

(Plus you get to wear a blue shirt and feel great about yourself in a symbolic kind of way because you know nothing about economics, how your standard of living is so high and what is really going on with natural gas vs. coal).

Yayyyy--- weeee! So fun to ban Fracking!

realitycheck88 (anonymous profile)
April 24, 2014 at 3:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Total petroleum production US vs. Saudi Arabia:

loonpt (anonymous profile)
April 24, 2014 at 3:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

That's some fancy reality you got there realitycheck. The coal industry died out in Santa Barbara county in, oh, never was and the fracking, acidization and steam injection that industry wants to use on over 7000 new wells in our county is to produce the dirtiest kind of oil, not the natural gas that you love.
Meanwhile, the same industry that wants to turn Santa Barbara county into an oil patch is fighting tooth and nail to have export restrictions lifted so that we get the poisoned water and air, China gets the oil and absentee tycoons laugh all the way to their offshore bank. Realitycheckmate.

GPaudler (anonymous profile)
April 24, 2014 at 9:47 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Did you know that fracking for oil has been taking place in SB county for the last 20 years without any problems? Fracking for oil is different than fracking for natural gas.

Botany (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2014 at 5:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)


The stakes are too high to not do our homework and mind our sources.

It's revealing that you would bungle the relatively simple workings of academic credentials by making the silly assumption that Dr. Gautier has a doctorate in geography, and do it while professing wisdom beyond a vast majority of experts whose job is to study the complexities and nuances of our climate. You clearly didn't look into Dr. Gautier's qualifications, probably because you weren't interested, probably because you've already decided you disagree with her.

A quick search would reveal that Dr. Gautier has five relevant collegiate degrees, none of which are in geography, despite your conviction. So what other assumptions are packed into your polemic?

watermillvillage (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2014 at 11:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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