Around the country, people are waking up to the fact that our water supply is vulnerable to contamination by the oil and gas industry’s new “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing) technique. When the Carpinteria Valley Association showed the documentary Gasland last April, the audience was appalled by the contamination of wells in more than a dozen states, and only slightly comforted to think that at least it wasn’t happening here. All that changed two months ago, when it was discovered that Venoco, Inc., had “fracked” on two sites in Santa Barbara County.
What we are also waking up to is that the oil and gas industry’s powerful lobby has its grip on public regulation, at both the national and state level. Thanks to the “Halliburton Loophole” established by Dick Cheney, fracking is exempt from EPA regulation and from the Safe Drinking Water Act, and frackers don’t have to disclose the chemicals they inject into the ground. The FRAC Act, aimed at correcting this, languished in the Senate in 2009-2010, and was reintroduced in 2011, but is currently stalled in committee.
Meanwhile, when the U.S. Energy Department recently established an Advisory Panel on fracking, the public was outraged to discover six of the panel’s seven members have substantial financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry. In response, community representatives, environmental groups, and health advocates from 100 organizations representing two million people in 13 states have united to demand that the panel’s chair be replaced, and that independent experts and representatives from communities affected by hydraulic fracturing be included on the panel.
At the state level, there were high hopes for Assembly Bill 591, which would have forced the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to exercise its authority to regulate fracking. However, after some industry lobbying, the bill was substantially watered down. Among other things, the industry now has 60 days afterfracking to disclose the chemicals used.
What remains for us is the local level. Since last May’s disclosure of Venoco’s fracking activities, a coalition has been formed, including the Carpinteria Valley Association, the Environmental Defense Center, Get Oil Out (GOO), Santa Barbara ChannelKeeper, and citizens in Los Alamos, adjacent to the recent fracking sites. The group is formulating a position paper to submit to the Santa Barbara County Supervisors.
The Board of Supervisors will be discussing fracking at its regular meeting on Tuesday, August 2, in the Hearing Room on the 4th floor of the County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St. The discussion of fracking is estimated to begin about 11:00 a.m. The Carpinteria Valley Association urges citizens to speak up to protect our groundwater from contamination by fracking, either by attending the hearing or by contacting First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal.
Other communities around the country are adopting “Community rights” ordinances that ban fracking. This may be Santa Barbara County’s best bet. In the meantime, speak up to protect our water supplies. If you don’t, who will?