Supporters of the ballot measure, wearing blue shirts, waved their hands in the air in agreement with comments made on Friday.

Daniel Dreifuss / Santa Maria Times

Supporters of the ballot measure, wearing blue shirts, waved their hands in the air in agreement with comments made on Friday.

High-Intensity Oil-Extraction Ban Headed to Ballot

Saturday, June 14, 2014
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Seven months and one day removed from their controversial approval of Santa Maria Energy’s 136 cyclic-steam injection wells, the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Friday to place a measure on the November ballot that would ban new cyclic steaming, hydraulic fracturing, and acidizing operations in the unincorporated areas of the county. Although the four-hour hearing’s conclusion was foregone — it was either put the initiative on the ballot or adopt it outright — its messages echoed those of the Santa Maria Energy meeting in November.

Opponents of the ballot measure also turned out in force.
Click to enlarge photo

Daniel Dreifuss / Santa Maria Times

Opponents of the ballot measure also turned out in force.

Friday’s hearing saw more than 100 speakers make impassioned pleas both for the economy and for the environment. Although they were deeply outnumbered in comments, oil industry representatives and employees urged the supervisors to place the measure on the ballot but to consider its consequences. The bill’s passage would jeopardize existing jobs and kill future jobs in an already money-strapped North County, and it would threaten millions of dollars in property-tax revenues for the entire county, opponents said. They repeatedly reminded the board that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, hasn’t occurred in Santa Barbara in years, thanks to the tough regulations enacted by the supervisors in 2011, and that a recently passed state law, Senate Bill 4, would further monitor the practice starting in 2015.

But proponents of the ordinance said that Santa Barbara County, the birthplace of the environmental movement, should take a leadership position on the issue. They spoke more about cyclic steaming than fracking — the former involves pumping heated water into the ground to thin oil and release it, while fracking breaks the rock — and labeled the opposition’s concerns as scare tactics. They served up their own scares too, expressing worries about the methods’ heavy reliance on water in a time of extreme drought and a continued reliance on fossil fuels in the face of climate change. Supporters donned shirts and scarves colored the shade of blue now associated with the Water Guardians, the activist group that quickly sprang up and gathered 16,000 signatures — 3,000 more than necessary — in a matter of weeks to qualify the ban for the ballot.

For the first time, the group was formally supported by the area’s major environmental players, including the Sierra Club, the Community Environmental Council (CEC), and the Environmental Defense Center (EDC). The executive director of the EDC, Owen Bailey, spoke first. “The fact is these risky, polluting technologies pose significant threats to our communities and our environment,” he said. “And they remain insufficiently regulated.”

Dennis Bozanich, assistant to the county CEO, made a presentation to the board on the measure's possible repercussions.
Click to enlarge photo

Daniel Dreifuss / Santa Maria Times

Dennis Bozanich, assistant to the county CEO, made a presentation to the board on the measure’s possible repercussions.

If approved by voters in November, the ordinance would prohibit enhanced extraction methods — most notably fracking, cyclic steaming, and acidizing — but not affect existing projects, including Santa Maria Energy’s 136 wells. The measure’s stipulation that certain future projects could qualify for exemptions presents some issues, many said Friday, as the county would have to deal with those on a case-by-case basis; similar concerns abounded about vested rights. How well-maintenance techniques — which involve routinely treating wells with chemicals to rid them of buildup — would be interpreted under the ordinance also remains fuzzy, with its authors saying they wouldn’t be included. Others disagreed. County Counsel Mike Ghizzoni declined to comment but said his impartial legal analysis of the ordinance will be available in late July.

According to a presentation from staff, Santa Barbara County currently has 1,167 active onshore oil wells that produced 4.3 million barrels of oil in 2013. Most of the oil wells employ traditional drilling techniques, with cyclic-steaming operations accounting for about 15 percent of the total operations, said Kevin Drude, the deputy director of the county’s energy division. But cyclic steaming is growing increasingly popular, with 69 percent of the oil wells permitted last year using that method, 80 percent of the 131 recently applied-for wells proposing it, and 100 percent of the applications for another likely 533 wells requesting it. Of those 903 total wells, 89 percent would use techniques singled out in the initiative.

How many barrels of oil 903 wells could produce varies greatly, Drude said, adding that the emissions those wells could emit would be much more predictable. Based on the 88,000 metric tons projected to come from Santa Maria Energy’s 136 wells, 903 cyclic-steaming wells would produce emissions equivalent to more than 100,000 cars, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Also included in the report, and noted by many speakers, were the economic projections if the measure passed. Annually, oil companies pay about $16.4 million in property taxes, a huge chunk of which goes to schools, with the rest heading to County Fire, special districts, and the county as a whole. County staff cautioned that the possible economic effects of the measure likely wouldn’t be felt immediately and would be subject to the number of projects exempted, as well as factors dictated by basic supply and demand.

Concerned citizens packed the boardroom, with hundreds having to stand outside the building.
Click to enlarge photo

Daniel Dreifuss / Santa Maria Times

Concerned citizens packed the boardroom, with hundreds having to stand outside the building.

The measure could even create opportunities for new business, the report stated, although it could affect current workers in the industry, which hosts about one percent of all jobs in the county. How the measure could affect property-tax revenues and thus future infrastructure funding — the supervisors approved a plan Wednesday that directs $102 million in future revenue growth to maintenance costs — is unknown; a fiscal impact statement will come in August.

The supervisors also voted 5-0 against authoring ballot arguments either for or against the initiative but could change their minds until late July. Supervisor Salud Carbajal suggested he would look into endorsing it, and North County supervisors Peter Adam and Steve Lavagnino indicated they will fight it leading up to November.

Lavagnino, who commented on the matter more than any of his colleagues, made similar points to those he voiced in November. He supports alternative forms of energy, like wind and solar, he said, but fossil fuels remain a fact of life. “The reality is, I had to park a half-mile away from this place today because people still use cars,” he said. “The GHG [greenhouse gas] impact for us not acting locally is we have to get it from somewhere else. And as long as we’re still driving cars, we have to get it from Iraq or Venezuela or Algeria or somewhere else.”

Lavagnino, who said that the county has received zero fracking applications since its new rules were implemented, also chastised the speakers who minimized the ordinance’s would-be effects on the industry. “It’s easy to say somebody else’s job is superfluous. If you’re one of the guys out there, it’s pretty important to you,” he said. “If the ban was to ban environmental activists’ 501(c)(3)s, you guys would be all up in arms, and they’d say, ‘It’s only a couple hundred of you, so it’s no big deal.’”

After the meeting, Katie Davis, who helped spearhead the Water Guardians’ efforts, said she has faith in the group’s message but acknowledged the likely million-dollar war they’re now headed to against the oil industry. “I do believe this will be a David-and-Goliath-type battle,” she said.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Bravo Santa Barbara....

BondJamesBond (anonymous profile)
June 15, 2014 at 8:55 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I liked how Lavingino compared oil workers to environmental non profits. He didn't seem to realize that the Water Guardians and their 100s of volunteers weren't from non-profits. They were everyday people. He seemed so confused!

nitrogen (anonymous profile)
June 15, 2014 at 9:20 a.m. (Suggest removal)

How is this a decision for a bunch of politicians OR a science-challenged population? The Supes simply passed the buck instead of doing any problem solving. Let the lying, mudslinging, and namecalling begin. But informed debate? Not in SB.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
June 15, 2014 at 9:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Real Jobs are dirty and should be banned in Santa Barbara!

garfish (anonymous profile)
June 15, 2014 at 9:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

garfish, the initiative wouldn't impact existing oil jobs.

nitrogen (anonymous profile)
June 15, 2014 at 11:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

humans have a huge problem with large time scales. They lack vision.

spacey (anonymous profile)
June 15, 2014 at 12:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

In the last 30 years, the oil and gas production, processing, and transportation industry has not provided more than a thousand jobs or so for Santa Barbara County. On the other hand, the industry has provided a great deal of profit for corporations with headquarters in places like Los Angeles and Houston, Texas. The truth is that fracking can contaminate water tables and steam flooding takes a huge amount of energy input and water consumption to get a relatively small return in the form of dry oil. A little known fact is that when the price of oil fell, the oil in Santa Barbara County became too expensive to produce but when the price went back up it was all of sudden profitable again (at least for the smaller companies with lower overhead costs). I would question support for this initiative if the oil companies did not fight tooth and nail every attempt to regulate their effects on the environment. However, they pour millions of dollars to fight every rule and regulation and attempt to kill in the crib every attempt to regulate their pollution. Consequently, I don't feel sorry for them. If they want this community to love and embrace them, they need to convince us that they support every attempt to reduce their pollution and quit fighting the community as if we are their sworn enemies. The oil companies remind me of a highly intelligent but abusive husband who treats his wife with condescending disregard yet continues to expect dinner on the table when he gets home from work. I hope the jerk gets fed dog food like he deserves.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
June 15, 2014 at 9:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's interesting in that the protestors drove their cars to these meetings. Go figure - they can't live without oil either. You can argue all day long about electric cars, or hybrids but the net effect on the environment from using these cars is far greater than reducing one's milage such that the gallons of gas used has far less negative impact than the full lifecycle cost of a new hybrid or electric vehicle. Ie, keep your old car and drive less - you save the environment more than purchasing any new car.

How about letting the scientists figure this one out instead of the fear mongers?

On the money front - one of the largest sources of funding for 501c3 corporations (non-profits) in SB is the oil industry. If you dig you will see the source of the money is from trusts which receive their funding from oil tract developments. These foundations could not do all the good they do without the oil money.

We are all tied to the industry whether we like it or not. We can make a significant impact by reducing the gallons of oil we use. One gallon burned = ~20# of carbon produced. It matters not what the miles per gallon are. Gallons matter. Prius lovers get a clue!

IF fracking proves to be safe, per the scientists, then we ought to use it. This will lessen our dependency on the whackos in the mid-east and third world despots.

We can focus on reduction of usage today, and development of sane (translate not federally subsidized failures) of alternative energy and transportation.

Lastly, if you really want to make a difference today - burn fat: ride a bike. Quit making excuses and change your personal consumption habits.

considered (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2014 at 8:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Scientists cannot make ethical decisions based on their training! Nor are they better than us at making political decisions. Each fracked well requires 1 million to 5 million gallons of water a year. This water is contaminated with about 20% of chemicals that cannot be removed. About 20% of this contaminated water remains in the ground. What is the scientific analysis of these facts? My personal analysis as a person who lives in this community is that this sort of destruction and waste for the profit of a corporation is obscene. Don't let it start here.

RHS (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2014 at 8:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I thought it was hip and progressive to have the things things you consume to be as local as possible-why should that not include the oil we ALL use.If we see some oil infrastructure around it makes us appreciate it more than if it just magically appears at the pump.What is always glaringly left out of these discussions is population growth and the primary driver of it-BTW,look whose driving all those 10 yr old gas hog SUV's with 20" wheels which would probably otherwise be off the road.

garfish (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2014 at 9:14 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Agree with Katie.

This is a David and Goliath fight, her being Goliath trained in ex-vice president Al Jazeera Gore's Climate Reality Project.

Hey Marxist kids at UCSB who helped Katie collect signatures and think Al Gore is an "ecosocialist," you need to look into Al Gore Jr.'s role in the Bakersfield's Elk Hill oilfield privatization, which benefited the Gores' Occidental Oil-filled trust. It's cute that the kids think Al Gore's green tech is going to be socialist when it is supposedly a $40 trillion industry that gets the keep it's profits after free R&D from the taxpayers.

You will learn little grasshoppers that socialism/Marxism/communism are used by Richie Riches like Al Gore to socialize resources away from independently owned companies to privatize them to the real 1%, even if they have change the system (or change the climate) for generations to get it done.

Notice how the media is helping Katie focus this fight on Santa Maria Energy when they are locally-owned and not even fracking? You Go Gore!

Farabella (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2014 at 10:04 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Gore is like virtually every other politician:" speak sanctimoniously while lining your wallet.

And scientists are indeed capable of making ethical decisions. But they are rarely responsible for the use of their work.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2014 at 1:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's just so true. If anyone ever drives a car they have No Right to want clean groundwater and air quality by regulating fracking. All pollution is justified and desired if anyone is ever is involved with fossil fuel anything.

The sky definitely is gonna fall this time, just like it did with the plastic bags ban in Santa Barbara.

And for good measure to make our point, let's call them Marxists and such.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2014 at 5:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The south county socialists like to style this as a David and Goliath contest . . . .them being poor pitiful little David . . .(of course).

Big Green is way bigger than Big Oil. Lets start with the Whitehouse. Totally on their side. How about the Saudi's? They dont like us to get ahead with fracking either so they have been caught funding green nonsense like this. How about the Rockefellers? They turned fashionably green after making their fortune on oil. How about Google? Mrs Eric Schmidt is gadflying around now with her bazillions funding eco nonsense like the water guardians. Bet Katie can hook in a few million there. Heck how about the Rothschilds? Green causes are their 'thang' now in addition to heaven knows what else they spend their trillions on.

Oh sure. The water guardians are poor little things against big oil. Cry us a river

nuffalready (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2014 at 5:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

John_Adams. The water guardians specialize in falling skies. if you drive out on the 135, north of Los Alamos you'll run right into the edge the sky that fell in over . . . (gasp) . . . Venecos FRRRAAACCCKED wells. Fracked wells are right there. . .right along the highway. The environmental devastation is beyond comprehension.

Since you have no conscience about using an oil fueled car, motor on out there. Take a few pix to share with the water guardians.

nuffalready (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2014 at 5:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks for clarifying.
We can definitely see contaminated groundwater by driving by on hwy. 135.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2014 at 5:59 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks RHS & JohnAdams for bringing a little common sense to the discussion. SME & the other drillers would have us believe that "recycled" water will supply their needs for 7000 + new wells. Isn't that a cute story? There is no polite way to say it - THEY ARE LYING ! They will pipe a token amount of recycled water to a couple of locations to have a good story to tell, but.....
It is not logistically possible to supply 7000 wells in totally divergent rural locations with recycled water by pipeline, and trucking all that water creates a whole other nightmare. These Slick Willies will out bid farmers, arrange shady deals with local ranches to buy well water and otherwise cause all sorts of mayhem in their in reaching their goals. I say no dice.

geeber (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2014 at 5:59 p.m. (Suggest removal)

But wouldn't it be in their best financial interest to recycle the water? Why buy what you can reuse? Aren't they out to make money as well as spend it?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2014 at 6:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Slick willies? Environmentalist and their cabal of lawyers are not to be trusted any more than the oil companies. Talk about having an agenda...

Why not let science do the research and make a determination, then use an approach similar to that which manages the reserve for the channel islands. This is not perfect, certainly the fisherman say there's more flexibility than the environmentalists want to give, but it's a start.

Research it, measure it, verify it, implement it, validate it, check up on it.

Get off the high horse and put a research based fair plan in place.

Supervisors - do your job. Stop punting.

considered (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2014 at 7:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Al Gore? Communism? What are you idiots talking about?

nitrogen (anonymous profile)
June 16, 2014 at 9:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Let me break it down fo' ya nitrogen...

Top down- Dolla dolla bilz from TARP funds, ARRA funds makin' it rain, big green droppin' chedda stacks, Al Gore big pimpin', The White Heezy doin' its thang.

Bottom up- Katie Davis featuring Becca Claassen with hot b-sides from Social Change Not Climate Change with shout-outs to Karl Marx live at UCSB (

Inside out- your Playdoh 'Make-a-meal' mind!

Always remember eat your school. Stay in drugs. Don't do vegetables.

Ya feel me?

DJ_Jazy_Van_Jones (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 9:48 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"The US military is the biggest purchaser of oil in the world."

It's really too bad we didn't all vote for Ron Paul for President back in 2008. He said he would have started bringing all the troops home on his first day in office. Six years later, here we are....dumping toxic chemicals into the ground to get more oil so we can go bomb brown people in the Middle East.

Good job, America, keep voting for the corporate shills brought to you by MSNBC and Fox News.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 10:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

the lunatic fringe...

zionist (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 3:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If being non-violent and peaceful is the 'lunatic fringe' then PLEASE count me in.

If bulldozing innocent poor people's houses after stealing their water and land and then keeping them in a large concentration camp, occupying their country militarily, regulating, limiting and inspecting all of their shipments coming in, committing a slow genocide against an entire group of people while simultaneously using the Holocaust as an excuse for committing such atrocities against a group of people who had nothing to do with the Holocaust is NOT the lunatic fringe - then once again - I'll HAPPILY take the lunatic fringe label any day.

But we know who the real lunatics are.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 3:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)

crack pots...

zionist (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 8:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

You cant question the Holocaust, the national bankruptcy, or Global Warming. Best to keep the conversation light, and allow those with greater wisdom (like N2) to manage the world

nuffalready (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2014 at 6:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ya feel me?

DJ_Jazy_Van_Jones (anonymous profile)
June 17, 2014 at 9:48 a.m.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2014 at 7:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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