The oil industry claims passage of Measure P will be “bad for the economy.” However, a careful look at the entire economic picture reveals just the opposite.
Last year, global greenhouse gas emissions rose sharply, contributing to an ever-worsening risk of climate destabilization — according to the United Nations IPCC global study and NASA. Those same sources cite the risk of reaching a point of irreversible concentrations of CO2 in our atmosphere, which will lock in unstable conditions for thousands of years.
Santa Barbara County’s Planning and Development director has stated that our most common form of enhanced oil drilling currently is steam injection — where each well emits four times the greenhouse emissions of conventional oil drilling. The approval last year of 136 new steam injection wells for Santa Maria Energy will make that company the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Santa Barbara County.
In SEC filings, Santa Maria Energy disclosed plans to expand to an additional 7,000 future wells in our county. If Measure P does not pass, and multiple oil companies are allowed to go forward with major expansions, the greenhouse emissions pouring out of Santa Barbara County will aggravate the already significant global atmospheric concentrations.
Former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, climatologist Dr James Hansen, has declared that the safe level for humans of atmospheric CO2 concentration is 350 ppm. However, globally we are now at 400 ppm and rising.
If Measure P does not pass, and the oil companies are allowed to continue business as usual, there will be enormous economic costs associated with worsening climate change:
• $35 million to reactivate desalinization plant
• Enormous cost of treating recycled water for additional uses
• High expenses to repair and expand electrical grid capacity
• Agricultural costs rising with heat and competition for water
• Tourism will decline as S.B.’s landscape withers
• Public Health costs rising as warmer weather brings new concerns
• California wildfire fighting costs will skyrocket
• Insurance and cleanup costs for all weather risks will rise
• Due to lack of Oil Severance Tax, County of S.B. will pay for infrastructure for thousands of new wells, spill response, and so on
• Litigation will expand based on the Public Trust Doctrine.
The county’s current fears of liability that may be associated with reducing greenhouse gases in Santa Barbara County pales in comparison to the county’s massive financial exposure if there is a failure to curb greenhouse emissions pursuant to the Public Trust Doctrine. This well-established legal doctrine holds that public entities act as trustees of essential shared natural resources such as air and water for current and future residents. As climate change has negatively threatened both atmospheric air and water conditions, frustrated citizens are turning to litigation, and they are being supported by the most qualified climatologists in the United States.
Santa Barbara County and the voting public both need to pay attention to what is now occurring judicially because it represents a new and enormous financial liability for the county. Not only are governmental entities being increasingly sued over a failure to adequately protect air and water, but the doctrine in recent years has morphed into a more specific doctrine: the Atmospheric Trust Doctrine. In this litigation, youthful plaintiffs are suing governmental bodies for their failure to take meaningful action to curb climate threats to their future. Scientific evidence is provided by an entire impressive team of scientists led by Dr James Hansen, formerly of NASA.
On September 12, 2014, the Alaska Supreme Court opinion in the Kanuk case agreed. As part of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, this case will carry legal weight within California. In Kanuk, Alaska’s highest court agreed that climate change constitutes an appropriate cause of action under the Public Trust Doctrine. (Kanuk et al. vs. State of Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources.)
Ominously for risk management, one unique aspect is emerging from the atmospheric trust litigation model. Because the emissions from enhanced drilling are leaving Santa Maria to join the global atmosphere, the damage caused is not limited to Santa Barbara County residents. If we are contributing to a global destabilization, any person on earth who breathes would arguably have “legal standing” or the right to sue Santa Barbara County for knowingly worsening the problem. The potential financial liability for the county if it fails in its trustee duty to contain emissions could dwarf any locally based litigation.
Join me in voting “yes” on Measure P to protect our water, climate, and long-term economic health in Santa Barbara County.
Tina S. Boradiansky is a UCSB graduate and a retired attorney who clerked at the state Supreme Court level.