WEATHER »

The Misguided P(rofessor)

Some Collegial Reevaluation of Measure P


With all due respect to our colleague Professor Eric R. A. N. Smith, and his command of the field of environmental science, we find his analysis and arguments with respect to Measure P unconvincing. These are our views on the points he raised and a few points of our own.

Precautionary Principle This is both a pragmatic and a moral concept, which is employed frequently in Europe, e.g., in France, where fracking is banned for lack of credible and convincing proof of its ability to be utilized without harming either the environment or human health.

Unfortunately, the Precautionary Principle does not exist in the United States, other than in articles lamenting its absence. If it did, we wouldn’t be having a discussion about Measure P. There would be no need for Measure P proponents to have undertaken the heroic effort of qualifying a ballot measure to protect Santa Barbara County from a forecasted, imminent tsunami of extreme hydrocarbon extraction.

Moratorium on High Intensity Production (R.I.P.) We agree with Smith that a moratorium would be a good idea. Unfortunately, the oil industry, which holds quite a bit of sway in Sacramento, disagrees, as reported in Clean Technica’s “Did California’s Oil Lobby Buy Senate Bill 1132?” Senate Bill 1132 called for a modest, seven-month moratorium on fracking to allow the California Natural Resources Agency to conduct “an independent scientific study” to ascertain what dangers fracking presents to Californians and the environment. SB 1132 died in the California Legislature in June of this year.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, methane is the scary new kid on the block, given that its warming effect is 30 to 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“Methane leakage during production and transport of oil is also a significant concern … In North Dakota for example … some 30 percent of the gas produced in the state is flared on-site, contributing to global warming emissions and other air quality concerns (Helms 2012; Krauss 2011),”says the Union of Concerned Scientists publication “Toward an Evidence-Based Fracking Debate.” Methane is expected to leak in Santa Barbara County from oil production and transportation.

As oil produced in Santa Barbara County is extremely carbon-intensive, burning the oil produced by the projected several thousands of new wells will add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere equivalent to adding nearly a million cars on our roads. Santa Barbara should reduce its greenhouse emissions in alignment with California and national efforts and not do the opposite.

Earthquakes Of serious concern is underground injection of wastewater produced by high-water-intensity production practices — fracking, acidizing, and cyclic steam injection — the targets of Measure P. Underground injection has been linked to increased seismic activity in Oklahoma, making it the second most seismically active state in the United States, behind (guess what) California.

The Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) administers California’s Underground Injection Control Program under a delegation agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Although DOGGR might conjure up the image of a growling guard dog, some of its teeth have been found by the EPA to be missing.

This weakness should concern the citizens of a county bordered by the San Andreas Fault to the east, cut through by the Santa Ynez and More Ranch faults, to mention a few, and bounded on the east by the Hosgri and Shoreline faults just offshore of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, upwind from Santa Barbara. Citizens can read the recent report “On Shaky Ground: Fracking, Acidizing and Increased Earthquake Risk in California,” by Jhon Arbelaez, Shaye Wolf, and Andrew Grinberg.

Water Usage The significant amounts of water required for fracking have been well publicized. Less well known is that acidization also utilizes enormous quantities of water, which is then lost for other uses. Cyclic steam injection requires tremendous amounts of water; super-heating that water to 500 degrees requires large amounts of energy.

It makes no sense to promote a massive ramp-up of water-intensive processes in the middle of what may soon become the worst drought in recorded California history. Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens said, “Water is the new oil.” Whether or not that is accurate, the converse is decidedly untrue — we are not going to be able to drink, or water our crops with fracked, steamed, and/or acidified shale oil or the toxic wastewater associated with it.

The “Environmental Superiority” of Domestic U.S. Oil and Gas Production Before impugning the environmental regulation of other oil-producing countries, and touting the superiority of our own, it might be worth a look at the final report on the Macondo BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

“At the time of the Macondo blowout, BP ’s corporate culture remained one that was embedded in risk-taking and cost- cutting – it was like that in 2005 (Texas City), in 2006 (Alaska North Slope Spill), and in 2010 (“The Spill”)…

The catastrophe resulted from a lack of “any effective industry or regulatory checks and balances in place to counteract the increasingly deteriorating and dangerous situation on Deepwater Horizon.”

Finally, Smith made the point that dwindling oil production in S.B. County will demand dirty oil imports! S.B. County (onshore) produces a bit over four million barrels of oil a year. The U.S.A. uses 19 million barrels a day. If Santa Barbara oil production were substantially reduced, as Smith fears, a fleet of tankers wouldn’t be leaving for the Middle East!

The above discussion is intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive. We hope it stimulates citizens’ interest in doing their own investigation to allow for an intelligent and considered vote on Measure P.

As for Professor Smith, perhaps he can work toward the adoption, as sound public policy, of the Precautionary Principle in this country so that we wouldn’t have to read reports like this — “Toxics Across America: Report Details 120 Hazardous, Unregulated Chemicals in the U.S.”

Catherine Gautier is an emerita professor of Geography and Bruce Luyendyk is an emeritus professor of Earth Science at UC Santa Barbara.



event calendar sponsored by: