On Sept. 21, in advance of the summit on climate change that convened in New York City that week, around 400,000 people took to the streets to demand action, not words, for a world with an economy that works for the people and the planet, a world safe from the ravages of climate change, a world with good jobs, clean air and water and healthy communities.
A real sense of optimism emerged from the numerous parties advocating change even as the various nations represented at the summit were once again unable to find a meaningful agreement on which actions to take to face climate change. The cohesion and camaraderie were present among the participants and many realized that the needed changes will have to start at the local level. And Santa Barbara County voters will have their chance on Nov. 4 to be a part of the climate change solution. This will be our opportunity to really have a distinct impact in a fight that often seems removed and out of proportion with what is achievable at the local level.
A measure to ban fracking and other high-intensity petroleum production in Santa Barbara County, Measure P, is on the November ballot. Whether Measure P passes or not will likely determine greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade in our county, a critical period during which we need to reduce emissions in order to head off the worst impacts of climate change. This is a period during which we must take the opportunity to change our energy use patterns and quickly transition towards clean (carbon-free) and renewable types of energy.
Measure P proposes a ban on high-intensity oil production including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted underground to break up the rock and extract oil, and acidizing, which adds hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid to dissolve the rock to extract oil and cyclic steam injection, which uses large amounts of water, steam and energy to heat the thick, heavy oil so it will flow more readily. There are many local environmental concerns with these techniques which can lead to air pollution and water contamination, and expansion of these techniques as is proposed for our country would also lead to large increases in greenhouse gas emissions in the county.
Oil companies are already planning to drill thousands of wells in our county for oil that is extremely carbon intensive, the burning of which would add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere equivalent to adding nearly a million cars on our roads. Santa Barbara County should instead reduce its greenhouse emission in alignment with Californian and national efforts — not the opposite.
Of serious concern is the underground injection of wastewater produced by these high-water intensity practices as such injection has been linked to increased seismic activity. While this underground injection is administered and overseen by the Department of Conservation and the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), this oversight has been criticized by the EPA and considered deficient. In a county bordered by the San Andreas Fault to the East, intersected by the San Ynez and More Ranch faults and bounded by the Hosgri and Shoreline fault just offshore of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant upwind of Santa Barbara, such weak oversight should concern our citizens.
Cyclic steam injection, the most employed technique in our county requires tremendous amounts of water, and super-heating that water to 500 degrees requires large amounts of energy. It makes no sense to promote a massive ramp-up of water-intensive processes in the middle of what may soon become the worst drought in recorded California history.
Measure P, if passed, would protect the air, water and environment that make the county a desirable place to work and live. It will protect the county from outside speculators who will leave as soon as their oil exploitation is not profitable any longer, leaving us with the cost of environmental remediation.
Santa Barbara County should take a lead in rejecting the most polluting forms of oil production and transitioning to clean sources of energy. Of all the things we can do locally in regard to climate change, this would have the highest impact and is critically important at this time. The stakes could not be greater — our actions now will determine the future livability of the planet.
Vote Yes on P!
Catherine Gautier is a Professor Emerita in UCSB’s Geography Department