By Katie Davis
The oil companies have been spending millions of dollars to misinform about Measure P. It does not and cannot shut down existing oil production. It applies only to future wells using specific, high-intensity techniques such as fracking, acidizing and steam injection.
The initiative is well-written. It was drafted by one of the top legislative firms in the state and reviewed by numerous law firms, including Environmental Defense Center and Stanford Law School, and is endorsed by state and local legislators and four former county supervisors who are familiar with legislation.
Opponents of Measure P don’t want to debate the real issue, which is whether or not we want massive new oil operations — thousands of new wells are planned —using extreme techniques that use large amounts of water, cause spills and water pollution, trigger earthquakes and increase air pollution.
These are not companies with good track records. A farmer in Kern County won a $8.5 million dollar settlement against Aera Energy for polluting his groundwater. That same company just applied for 220 wells in our county.
Texas-based ERG Resources — recently purchased by a Chinese mining company — had 26 violations, including six spills in its first year of operation in 2010. They are planning a rapid increase in the next few years, likely over a thousand wells.
Measure P will not impact county funding. The county has said it would have no immediate impact on oil property taxes. We don’t have an oil extraction tax, so all we get from oil companies is what they pay in property taxes — which make up 0.7 percent of the overall county budget.
We are likely losing money on the oil industry currently as it is costly in terms of road maintenance, emergency response, environmental damage, etc. What’s more, growth in more extreme extraction methods, which are associated with higher risk of underground leaks and higher air pollution emissions, could drive down property values and the resulting property taxes collected by the county. People near these kinds of operations have trouble getting loans and insurance, and if water supplies are compromised, properties can lose all value. The net result is we end up with less revenue and higher costs.
Comparative studies of counties with and without extractive industries show that economic growth is better in counties with less reliance on fossil fuel production. Kern County, whose county seat is Bakersfield, has 30 times more oil production and higher unemployment than Santa Barbara County.
If we want to grow a healthy, sustainable economy, a boom in extreme oil is not the way to do it. This is particularly true in Santa Barbara County where our economy is based on the desirability of the area that drives tourism, technology and wealthy investors who could base themselves anywhere.
This is also some of the heaviest and most polluting oil in the world that would require the most carbon-intensive forms of extraction, potentially doubling greenhouse gas emissions in the county. An oil boom in Santa Barbara County and California based on these techniques will set back the state’s ability to take the lead on addressing climate change — just as the tar sands boom in Canada has reversed their previous leadership on the issue.
As the country with the largest per capita emissions in the world, the United States must get serious about addressing climate change if we are to not face truly catastrophic impacts. If California does not lead in transitioning away from the most polluting forms of fossil fuels to the clean energy economy of the future, who will? Santa Barbara County must be part of the solution, not the problem. Vote “yes” on Measure P.
• Katie Davis, a former high-tech executive, is a volunteer with the Yes on Measure P campaign.