Throwing the Baby Out with the Frack Water

Measure P goes too far in its intent to protect our water and would curtail oil well rehabilitation by acidization and the use of cyclic steaming on new wells in addition to banning fracking. Both of these methods are focused on promoting oil flow in close proximity to a well, as opposed to fracking, and neither activity represents significant risk to our water resources.

As an environmental hydrogeologist, my job is to protect groundwater — as a consultant and formerly as a City of Santa Barbara water commissioner. I have served as an expert in litigated groundwater contamination matters on behalf of plaintiffs vs. industry, so I am not a toady of oil companies; rather, my vocation requires the unbiased evaluation of facts.

Cyclic steaming does not pose a significant threat to groundwater in Santa Barbara County because it is conducted in relatively impermeable hard-rock formations that are outside of our groundwater basins; it injects only steam (cleaned and recycled from production of oil wells); it only penetrates about 100 feet into the rock around the well; and the technology is regulated by the EPA.

I’m certainly not arguing that oil companies will ever put environmental protection above profits, but what I am convinced of is that Measure P, while noble in its intent, reaches too far. If we want to ban fracking, fine, but let’s not throw the baby out with the frack water by banning far less threatening methods — because I still drive a car.

To submit a comment on this article, email or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email

event calendar sponsored by: