Jun 13, 2014 9:06 PM by LiLi Tan, KSBY News
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to let voters decide whether to ban hydraulic fracturing and other enhanced oil extraction methods.
Hundreds of people packed a special meeting Friday in Santa Maria. So many that environmental activists and oil industry representatives alike were spilling out of the chambers, into the lobby and out of the building.
It all started after the Water Guardians, an environmental group based in Santa Barbara County, gathered more than 16,000 signatures, which forces county leaders to either adopt the anti-fracking measure or put it on the November ballot.
The Water Guardians say the practice of fracking and other methods such as cyclic steaming and well acidification contaminate ground water and use thousands of gallons of water to extract oil from the ground.
Representatives from Santa Maria Energy and Pacific Coast Energy Company also argue they do not use drinking water for cyclic steam injection, but instead use recycled water extracted from conventional oil operations and from sanitation plants.
They also say fracking is not happening in Santa Barbara County because the Monterey Shale is already highly fractured from previous earthquakes, so fracking won't significantly impact oil yields. However, the Water Guardians' initiative is to prevent the practice from happening.
"I've seen the environmental destruction that's happened and it hasn't helped the economy at all," said Water Guardian volunteer Rebecca August, who says her family is from Pennsylvania, where "high intensity" oil extraction methods have been used.
According to a report requested by the county after a meeting in May, oil companies pay $16.4 million in local property taxes, with more than $10 million of that going to schools.
Oil advocates say environmentalists' use of fracking is a cover to attack the oil industry, and say the initiative would cost the county jobs.
"I'd probably lose my job because what most people don't realize is this 'high intensity' as they're calling it... has been going on safely for 50 or 60 years," said Ian Marquardt, a foreman with Santa Maria Energy.
The report, however, says that oil and gas industry makes up just over 1 percent of all jobs in the county.
County supervisors have also expressed concern that individuals who own mineral rights may sue the county if the ordinance passes.
"We do believe at this time it's an illegal action," said Ed Hazard, of the National Association of Royalty Owners and whose family owns mineral rights in Orcutt and Cat Canyon. "We have a well-established legal right to access those minerals.
Hazard said mineral rights owners receive an average of $500 a month.
The Board of Supervisors will not be issuing a joint opinion on the ordinance, but individual supervisors can take a position on the issue if they choose.
Both oil representatives and environmental groups did not divulge what their campaign strategies would be, but both sides said they would be releasing information to educate the public from now until November.
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