Construction is a cyclical industry. As the owner of a construction company in Santa Barbara County, I have focused on trying to dampen these high and low swings. As we have not had to lay off any employees since the 2008 economic downturn, it seems fair to say that we have been reasonably successful.
For 30 years, my business has focused on the long term — where do we as a community, a county, and a society need to head? The clear answer for us was, and is, energy efficiency, better use of resources, green building, and harnessing the sun. On the big stage, all of these strategies help address climate change, the biggest threat that our planet faces today.
How does this relate to Measure P, the initiative to ban high-intensity petroleum extraction that will appear on the county ballot in November? Just as construction is a cyclical industry, petroleum extraction is even more of a boom-and bust-industry. Ninety-eight percent of the industry jobs are in drilling and most of these jobs (80 percent) are taken by nonlocals who have specialized expertise. These are short-term jobs, as we have seen in places where these high-intensity extraction technologies have been employed on a large scale, such as Pennsylvania and North Dakota. This kind of employment does not sustain itself, and, therefore, is not healthy for our county.
Because we are in transition from a fossil fuel to a renewable-energy-based economy, we will continue to need fossil fuels into the foreseeable future, but as a steadily diminishing portion of the energy mix. Sensibly, Measure P does not impact any of the existing petroleum wells or production, nor any of the jobs that are a part of this activity. It only impacts the future of high-risk, high-intensity wells, the ones that we really don’t need as we shift to renewables.
In reality, new high-intensity wells using fracking, acidization, and steam injection would be moving us in the opposite direction from the sensible path along which we are trending. If anything, we need to be accelerating our adoption of clean-energy projects and technologies. Fortunately, Santa Barbara is ideally situated to lead the clean-energy transformation with its abundant sunshine, ocean currents, and wind.
The good news is that a great number of innovations in renewable energy technologies and storage systems are starting to pop up. In solar electric generation alone, the costs keep dropping, the energy density of panels keeps increasing, the use of new, more effective materials keep being discovered, and the efficiencies of systems are making steady improvements. The costs to produce energy using solar and wind systems are now mostly equal to or less than energy costs using natural gas or coal (the cheapest of the fossil fuels), even without factoring in the huge environmental and health costs associated with the latter. Furthermore, the trend is that the cost for renewable power on almost all fronts keeps decreasing while that generated from using fossil fuel is universally increasing as energy companies rely on increasingly aggressive extraction techniques.
Partially for this reason, solar is the fastest growing component of our energy mix. For those concerned about well-paying, long-term jobs, the renewable energy sector is already creating more employment per dollar invested than the fossil fuel industry.
I recently took a four-day trip around the perimeter of Santa Barbara County. The second evening I deviated 20 miles into Kern County and spent the night in Taft, a major oil-producing center for the past 80 years. I was shocked. It is an unsightly wasteland. I would not wish this blight on anyplace, certainly not on Santa Barbara County. Supporting Measure P will preserve the natural beauty of our county, keep our economy vibrant, and facilitate us along the path to a sustainable, clean energy future.
Dennis Allen is owner and chairman of Allen Construction, which employs 120 local workers, has a North County office, and provides construction services throughout Santa Barbara County.