I spent a lot of time recently trying to understand what measure P will actually do. The conclusion I’ve come to is that it will essentially preserve the status quo and prevent a local oil boom that might result in 10,000 or more new wells. Here’s how I arrived at this conclusion: First, here’s a look at the concerns of both sides. The concern of the oil industry seem to be two: 1) existing wells will be shut down and, 2) they will not be able to drill thousands of new wells using the more intense methods now needed to get the oil out. The concern of the proponents of P are three: 1) that too much water will be used, 2) concern about aquifer pollution and 3) climate and air pollution concerns.
Opponents call it the oil shutdown initiative. In order to understand how the county might enforce this, I looked at statements made by the County Counsel’s office. Opponents of Measure P are saying 100% of existing wells could be affected. What does affected mean? Does that mean they’d be shut down or something else, like they’d have to get a permit? Listening carefully to recordings of the Board of Supervisors meetings and the Planning Commission meetings addressing this issue, I found that Santa Barbara County Council Mike Ghizzoni was asked about this. He cited the landmark California Supreme Court case, Avco Community Developers vs. South Coast Regional Commission. He applied the Avco standard to the Measure P and concluded current production will be allowed to continue.
Near the end of a later meeting, Sept 3 of the Planning Commission, Bill Dillon of the County Counsel’s office said that existing wells do not even have to come in and apply for an exemption if they already have a permit. “if they have a vested right and they are sure of it, they do not have to come in” (for an exemption). They do have the option of applying for an exemption just to have that determination if they want to, or have some doubt.
It seems that the shutdown concern of the industry is unfounded, but their second concern is real. They may not be able to drill their 10,000+ new wells. At the Planning Commission meeting Santa Maria Energy (one of the 16 companies operating here) states that they have approval for 136 wells on 32 acres but what about their other 4000 acres and the 7,700 well locations they have planned? This is just one of the companies indicating they plan to ramp up oil production, most of which do to propose to use high-intensity oil extraction. Continue Reading →