Oil and quakes don’t mix

Increased seismic activity is only one of many inevitable dangers from the expansion of oil drilling in the Santa Maria Valley.

ERG, Aera and PetroRock all intend to use cyclic steam injection to pull the heavy, thick crude from the ground, which requires the injection of chemicals and wastewater. Wastewater injections are considered to be responsible for an increase in earthquakes, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Santa Barbara County has an estimated 100 to 200 of these wastewater injection sites.

From 2000-2012, the Santa Maria area averaged fewer than two earthquakes a year. Yet in 2013 alone, there were 58 quakes recorded in that same area. This major increase correlates with close proximity to wastewater-injected areas. Quake distribution is particularly dense in oil-active Cat Canyon, Orcutt, Casmalia, and south Santa Maria.

In its environmental report, ERG Resources itself refers to the geological hazards that can trigger landslides and seismic activity during construction and drilling. Such activity can also trigger accelerated soil erosion and cause damage to project structures, resulting in injury and death of oil workers who will be on the front lines of these projects. ERG tempts us to say yes to their project by boasting of the number of jobs they will create; but it is those very workers and the community who will suffer – not the CEO of ERG.

There is no mitigation for these hazards.

Irv Beiman, Ph.D.

Santa Ynez

Do we really want to take the chance?

I would like to add my two cents to the debate over the proposal to dramatically increase the oil production in Cat Canyon. I have no special degrees or education that would qualify me to make an expert opinion, but articles in this paper over the years have given me some perspective.

When a natural spring in Napa started unexpectedly flowing a few years ago, the state hydrologist who commented for the press made the observation that, despite modern techniques, we really don't have a complete picture of how the underground water system works.

When this paper published an article regarding drinking water and desalination processes it also quoted a water expert who pointed out that we have vast quantities of undrinkable groundwater that are easier to clean up for human use than seawater is, and we are injecting oil production waste into it.

When Oklahoma started having earthquakes due to wastewater injection techniques the oil industry denied any role in the shaking. When scientific consensus concluded that the oil production wastewater being pumped back underground was indeed the cause of earthquakes, the state geologist on site pointed out that we actually know very little about how fault lines work and what may trigger an earthquake.

It would seem that the disclaimers used in each of the above incidents prove that, despite our best attempts, we fail to have a clear picture of what consequences may result from steam injection on such a large scale. This proposal could result in an accident or unforeseen consequence that ruins the groundwater in the Santa Maria basin. It may not, of course, but the risk does remain.

Given that we currently are leading the world in the export of energy, do we really need to exploit this resource right now? Given the potential risks that can not be mitigated, do we really want to take the chance on destroying our aquifer? This proposal from ERG is about maximizing profits for their shareholders, but we live and grow here and the risks remain ours alone.

Gary Murray

Santa Maria


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