A new grassroots group dubbed Water Guardians filed an initiative to ban fracking, acid well stimulation treatments, cyclic steam injection, and other “enhanced” extraction techniques on land in the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County. Conservationists Katie Davis and Rebecca Claassen led the small group to formally file papers with the Santa Barbara County Registrar on Tuesday afternoon.
The proponents must obtain at least 13,201 signatures from registered voters once County Counsel returns the official measure to the group. If successful, the initiative would then go before the Board of Supervisors, which can either adopt the land-use permit or place it on the November ballot. The Water Guardians were established about a month ago, Claassen said, but plans have been in the works for some time. Hundreds of volunteers, including student anti-fracking groups at UCSB and Santa Barbara City College, have joined the effort. Claassen said she is excited to launch an “education campaign,” and plans to garner support outside of farmers markets and next month during Earth Day.
“We know harm is happening,” said attorney Rachel Hooper, who is representing the Water Guardians and has specialized in land-use initiatives for decades. Though the initiative does not apply to projects already approved — such as the Santa Maria Energy 136-well project — or applications already submitted, the group hopes to target the “large bubble” of upcoming proposals.
California Senate Bill 4 — passed last year and near finalization — will require assessment and regulation of fracking, but it would not supersede a county land-use permit, Hooper said. Plus, SB 4 does not address cyclic steam stimulation, which Claassen said is their primary concern. “Of course, the state does regulate in the field of oil and gas, but it does not preclude the Board of Supervisors and voters from regulating land use by the operations,” said Hooper. If passed, the ban would not have any control over federal waters, where offshore fracking has occurred.