Opinions on whether or not hydraulic fracturing — a process used to maximize the extraction of underground resources including oil and natural gas — is safe are as different as oil and water.
Those opinions were voiced Wednesday as the California Department of Conservation division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) visited Santa Maria to get the public’s opinion of “fracking.”
According to the oil industry, it’s a time-proven safe method for extracting crude oil and natural gas and a big reason the industry is experiencing a renaissance. The process, which has been in use in the United States since the 1950s, is providing new sources of energy for a country dependent on petroleum.
According to the Environmental Defense Center, fracking poses “new and unknown risks to environmental quality and public health including drinking water contamination, groundwater depletion, air pollution, wildlife habitat destruction, and noise and light pollution.”
Those views seemed to be voiced in equal amounts by a crowd of about 70 at the Betteravia Government Center on Wednesday night.
Steve Lyons, who owns Kick On Ranch and Vineyard in Los Alamos, has been at the center of Santa Barbara County's fracking debate for more than a year after Venoco Inc. used the oil extraction process on wells on his property in 2011.
Lyons, who professed no opposition to the oil industry or drilling, said he is most concerned with the chemicals being injected into the wells as part of the process.
“How would you feel if your kids or grandkids were drinking the water next to where they’re fracking?” he asked both representatives of DOGGR and the audience. “We’re drinking that water.”
Lyons said he is all for the production of more oil but said fracking “isn’t the way to do it.”
In an overview of the fracking process, Tim Kustic, the state oil and gas supervisor and head of DOGGR, said most of the materials used in fracking are water and sand, but 0.5 percent to 1 percent of the materials are a wide range of chemicals used to improve the flow of crude oil.
Bob Field of the Santa Ynez Rancho Estates Mutual Water Co. said his company can’t sell water that contains any more than 50 parts per billion of contaminants. He added that the 1 percent the oil industry claims it’s using in fracking equates to 10 million parts per billion, making it a very contaminating process.
Backing Lyons’ concern, representatives of the Environmental Defense Center, 35th District Assemblyman Das Williams and others called for DOGGR to place a moratorium on the process until the regulations are developed.
Jason Marshall, chief deputy director of the state Department of Conservation, said the department doesn’t have the regulatory authority to place a moratorium on the practice until the regulations are developed, which is exactly what it is doing now.
Just as many people spoke in favor of allowing oil producers to continue using the process.
Sandra Burkhart, senior coordinator for the Coast Region of the Western States Petroleum Association which is responsible for 80 percent of production in California, said the industry is already “robustly” regulated and reported that 628 wells were fracked in the state in 2011 without any adverse affects.
Representatives of the Santa Barbara County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB), the California Independent Petroleum Association, and several others supported Burkhart’s comments.
Many of the proponents of the practice were representatives of the oil industry. Others, like Bob Blair of Arroyo Grande, just think the country needs more energy, and right now, that comes from oil.
“The world runs on oil and gas. It doesn’t run on (Toyota) Priuses,” he said.
This is just the beginning of the regulatory process, Marshall said. One more public input meeting is scheduled in Sacramento on July 25.
After the workshops, the department will use the public information and independent scientific studies to prepare draft regulations that will be circulated for public scrutiny.
He said the hope is to have the regulations in place by spring 2013.