Organizers behind the proposed ban on fracking and other “high intensity” oil-extraction techniques on Santa Barbara County’s unincorporated land have gathered enough valid signatures to place the measure on the November ballot. A self-described “spontaneous” movement, the Water Guardians group has grown considerably since it formed in March. Volunteers gathered 16,000 valid signatures — more than the 13,000 required — in about a month. On Tuesday, the measure will be presented to the Board of Supervisors.
Katie Davis, a full-time Water Guardians volunteer, argues these new techniques — fracking, cyclic steam injection, acidizing, and others — are unconventional and potentially dangerous. Though fracking isn’t currently occurring on land in the county, it does occur offshore (in federal jurisdiction three miles out) and in Ventura near the county line. In 2006, Sunset and Exxon applied to drill on Vandenberg Air Force Base, but the federal government did not approve it, so the county rejected their request. (Discussion about drilling on the base are ongoing, and a comprehensive study is underway.)
Davis said this ban seeks to tackle the “looming threat” of enhanced oil production in the county but would not impact projects that have already been approved, like the 136-well project from Santa Maria Energy approved by the Board of Supervisors last fall.
But the petroleum industry argues that California is already doing what needs to be done to safely produce oil through Senate Bill 4. “Industry clearly sees this is a solution in search of a problem,” said Santa Maria Energy spokesperson Bob Poole. “Why are we trying to jump ahead of science?” he asked, referring to SB 4. Poole also argued producing oil at home is better than importing “dirty oil” because stringent regulations are already in place in the county. Santa Barbara County is one of the only regions to have an Energy Division to oversee oil and gas activities on- and offshore.
But for Davis, the sheer volume of signatures gathered in such a short period of time demonstrates concern by voters. She added there has been an “outpour” of support in all parts of the county. “They don’t want to take the risks associated with these dangerous oil extraction techniques,” said Davis.
On Tuesday, the supes could adopt the ordinance in a 3-2 vote immediately or within 10 days. They could also order a report from staff — like they did with Measure M — who would have 30 days to draft a report and present it to the board. Otherwise, the supes could decide immediately to place the measure on the November ballot.