Activists associated with last year’s Measure P campaign joined forces with larger organizations last week and vowed, in the wake of the initiative’s defeat, to continue their fight against expanded oil drilling in Santa Barbara County and beyond. Ahead of an evening forum held in conjunction with a statewide push by anti-fracking groups, a dozen people gathered at the courthouse Sunken Gardens on Thursday to rally against potential health and environmental effects of fracking and cyclic-steam injection.
No oil operators in Santa Barbara County currently frack their wells, but cyclic steaming is on the upswing. If Measure P passed, it would have banned new projects involving those methods. Oil companies here, prior to and during the election season, repeatedly insisted that cyclic-steaming differs greatly from fracking, and county officials have stated that the former doesn’t involve injecting chemicals into the ground, as fracking does. But environmentalists pointed to previous incidents of ecological destruction and a new study that found a ramp-up in fracking throughout California.
“I offer you all in Santa Barbara a cautionary tale,” said Madeline Stano, an attorney for the Bay Area-based Center on Race, Poverty, & the Environment, which has focused much of its work on Kern County’s oil fields. “This is a huge business,” she said, citing the aforementioned study, which found that more than half of new oil wells in the state are fracked. “The threats from fracking are real,” Stano said. She noted the proximity in Kern County of schools and agriculture fields to drilling sites.
Tim Krantz, an environmental studies professor at the University of Redlands in San Bernardino County, pointed to Unocal’s massive spill in the Guadalupe Dunes years ago and how the disaster discredited the industry’s argument that such work creates jobs. “The real job security is in cleaning up that contamination,” Krantz declared.
On Thursday night, Stano and Krantz were among a group of speakers — plus an audience of more than 100 people — at the Faulkner Gallery. The event was one of the stops on a statewide tour aimed at getting participants for a February march to persuade Governor Brown to ban certain drilling techniques.
David Braun of Californians Against Fracking spoke urgently about the group’s desire to ban certain extraction methods and set the stage for a focus on renewable energy. He acknowledged the oil industry’s victory over Measure P, but said, “They are not winning this battle. It takes a village, and I see it here.”
Moderating the event was Becca Claassen, a prominent Water Guardian and member of 350.org. She too acknowledged the “Measure P army” in the room and thanked the industry for spending “$7 million worth of awareness” during the campaign. “This fight is anything but over,” she said.