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Several years ago, a Los Alamos farmer discovered that Venoco, an oil company that leased his land, was fracking at one of their wells. He reported this to the county and the county shut this operation down.

That’s when the public became concerned with the possibility of a new generation of high-intensity drilling in Santa Barbara County.

Now voters can take action. Measure P bans toxic new oil-extraction techniques, such as fracking, steam injection and acidization. These dangerous techniques involve mixing water and chemicals to loosen the thick oil dregs that conventional drilling can no longer extract.

Santa Barbara County needs Measure P because these processes use millions of gallons of water. Oil company officials say they will use treated wastewater. However, some of that water could be put to better use on our farmlands or recharging aquifers, especially in periods of drought. Once the wastewater is laced with chemicals used in these high intensity processes, it is permanently taken out of the recharge equation.

My neighborhood has already faced the possibility of a threat to its aquifer. Recently, the Vandenberg Village community learned of an application by Freeport-McMoRan (FM), the new owner/operator in the Lompoc Oil Field, for nine cyclic-steaming wells close to our aquifer. Fortunately, the community services district contacted the county and the oil company, and requested a monitoring well on the perimeter to serve as an early warning system if any contaminants reach the aquifer.

At first, FM agreed to the well, but only on the condition the district would not appeal future applications. This restrictive language forced the district to file an appeal. Only after further negotiations did the oil company agree to the monitoring well without the no-appeal restriction. Obviously, more applications are forthcoming.

If you look at the Energy Department map of all the active and inactive existing wells in Santa Barbara County, you can see the possibility of 7,000 new high-intensity wells at the existing well locations in the unincorporated areas is not an exaggeration. Voters can study all three maps at http://www.sbcountyplanning.org/energy/who/oil_gasMap.asp

The oil industry claims our county has the strictest environmental regulations in the state and nation. This is not fact. At this time, our greenhouse-gas emission policies are far weaker than many counties, such as Marin. And Marin has already passed an ordinance similar to Measure P, so they are far ahead of us in keeping their air and water clean and safe.

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Measure P is not a job killer. Volunteers for Yes on Measure P come from a broad segment of our local population — educators, retirees, union members, farmers, parents and grandparents, people who understand the value of good-paying jobs. They understand that no jobs need be lost if Measure P passes. As a matter of fact, oil companies could even expand, but only using the conventional extraction methods. Perhaps if we change the focus to clean energy, even more new jobs could be created.

Please help us protect our county from these high-intensity extraction methods. Read the text of Measure P in your Voter Guide. Look at the maps and decide for yourself.

Oil companies offering $150 gift cards can’t change the facts and can’t buy your vote. Big oil can donate $1.6 million for deceptive TV ads, slick mailers and robocalls, but voters in Santa Barbara County are smarter than that. Vote “yes” on Measure P.

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Marell Brooks lives in Vandenberg Village. Forward View is a progressive look at local issues that runs on Thursdays. For information, call 736-1897, or e-mail howerton62@aol.com.

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