When it comes to politics, it is very easy to get confused. Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative, Socialist, Libertarian, Environmentalist, Capitalist, Business Owner, Activist, the Tea Party, Concerned Citizen, Lobbyist — there are so many labels flying around that one almost feels they have to identify with one if they want to be taken seriously.

Another thing about politics is that it is almost always so mired by endless attacks, retorts and pointless bickering that a lot of us, myself included, end up losing interest and stop paying attention, let alone participating.

But I recently joined a brand new coalition, and we call ourselves the Santa Barbara County Water Guardians. We are people from Isla Vista, Goleta, Santa Barbara, Carpinteria and Santa Maria (apologies to any involved communities that I forgot) who came together because we are very aware of the large fossil fuel reserves that dwell beneath our county —  the Monterey Shale Formation. We are also very aware of the direct links between climate change, social injustice and the massive extraction of fossil fuels. We recognize that the burning of fossil fuels will not stop tomorrow, next week, in a few months, a few years or maybe even for decades, but that does not mean we will be complicit in the harvesting of a resource that we know must stay in the ground. We know that high intensity petroleum operations must be stopped; now our goal is to get an initiative on the county ballot in November and let the people of Santa Barbara County decide if they agree.

Fossil fuel extraction is by no means a simple issue. The processes themselves are very complex and finding out what is actually going on is not easy. The economics and marketing of the products can involve global networks so large that even actors within those networks do not see the big picture. The political process is also complex; most of us only generally understand how our local government makes decisions or even who in local government gets to make decisions on certain issues. Just attending a city council meeting is a little intimidating, let alone attempting to put pressure on government officials. Given the extreme complexity of the way both the fossil fuel industry and the government operates, I think it wise to go over some points susceptible to confusion and misinformation.

Why an Initiative?
In order for a mineral extraction technique to be banned by our county board of supervisors, a four out of five majority vote would be needed. This is not going to happen anytime soon, so we have decided to bring this issue to those with the most power – the people. Aside from the act of voting, the initiative process is the most direct way for citizens to utilize democracy. If we use the proper legal language and get enough signatures, we the people can bring any issue to a vote.

Water Scarcity
All of us are probably aware that our state is experiencing severe drought. The State Water Project, which provides southern California with water from rivers near Sacramento, will probably not be providing Southern California with water for the first time since it was constructed. High intensity petroleum operations require a huge amount of water to be pumped underground, and once this water returns to the surface, I doubt any of us would want to drink it. In a time of extreme drought, does our state really need to be giving water to processes that will contaminate it beyond further use?

Leaks & What They Mean for Water Users
All fossil fuel wells are encased in concrete, partly because the industry recognizes that a lot of their metal pipes leak. This extra barrier provided by the concrete is a great idea, but how often have we seen cracked pavement? Sure, the casing around wells is much thicker than the concrete on our sidewalks, but how much pressure are our sidewalks under compared to the extreme pressure that is constant in a fossil fuel well?
I will be honest: I am not a hydrology major and am not the person most qualified to be speaking about how groundwater moves around beneath the surface. What I do know is that no matter where you drill, you have to go through groundwater to get to the fossil fuel reserve. If a leak happen, be it of bitumen or methane, the leaked substance will find its way into the groundwater and move through the watershed. We think a great resource to have would be maps of our county’s watersheds with the locations of various fossil fuel wells marked. This would allow us to anticipate the impact a leak from any of these locations could have on our local water supply.

What is Actually Banned
All fossil fuels are trapped underground by an extreme amount of pressure. In conventional drilling, we poke a hole down to the reserve and harvest the material that comes squirting out. Conventional production is not banned by our initiative. But once the pressure in reserves decreases to the point where production becomes “uneconomical,” operators tend to choose between shutting down production or turning to “secondary extraction methods.” High intensity petroleum operations (hydraulic fracturing, matrix acidizing, cyclic steam injection) are the newest and most extreme forms of such secondary methods; all land uses supporting them are banned by our initiative.
Our initiative bans all future permits for high intensity petroleum operations; anything that is permitted and under construction before November of this year will not be affected.

Existence of the Fossil Fuel Industry vs. Expansion of the Fossil Fuel Industry
The fossil fuel industry exists and operates throughout our county, our state, our country and our planet. We are aware of this, and though we may recognize problems, we are not working to eradicate this industry. However, the science is not up for debate — we know that emissions from the burning of fossil fuels seriously impact our planet’s climate. Scientists, politicians and activists across the globe are calling for a just and sustainable transition away from dependence on fossil fuels. The first step in this transition must be to end the expansion of the fossil fuel industry. This means we cannot allow new techniques to come in and extract new types of fossil fuels. We need to be moving away from burning and extracting fossil fuels, not diversifying our ability to do so.

A major criticism of any effort to prevent the growth of industry is that such an effort will prevent the creation of jobs. But nowhere in this state have lawmakers made local employment a condition of approval for fossil fuel operations. Here is a quote from Steve Craig, who has been fighting fracking operations in our state for a while: “Based on our observations in Monterey County, often not only are trained field engineers, but pad grading, drilling crews and fluid hauling employees also come from out of the jurisdiction. Even the guards at the entrance to the various fracking wells in this county come from southern California and were not local.” If the industry won’t even hire and train local residents, how are communities benefitting from this? Don’t allow yourself to believe the taxes are good enough, even though the industry will certainly say that they are.

Obviously I did not clear up everything and some of what I did highlight may still be a little confusing, so please do your own research and if you feel inclined to do so, read our initiative (which can be found in the “about” section of our website).
The Water Guardians will be tabling in multiple locations on campus and in IV for the next few weeks. We have about a month to gather 18,000 signatures countywide. With the help of the UCSB community this should be a piece of cake. Even if you are unsure of your position on this initiative, please come talk to us. We may be able to answer some of your questions and will be helping people register to vote, or at least to check their voter registration status.
Thanks for making it through my lengthy op-ed and I look forward to engaging and conversing with you. Together we can ban fracking in Santa Barbara County!

Arlo Bender-Simon is a  fourth-year history and environmental studies major who is sick and tired of all this oil clogging up the political process. Learn more about the Water Guardians at www.waterguardians.org.


Arlo Bender-Simon is a fourth-year history and environmental studies major who is sick and tired of all this oil clogging up the political process. Learn more about the Water Guardians at www.waterguardians.org.

A version of this article appeared in the April 7, 2014 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
 Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are primarily submitted by students.