Why a Ban on Fracking is Critical for the Climate

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High-intensity oil production could triple County greenhouse gas emissions.

No-fracking-logoWorld powers are running out of time to slash their use of high-polluting fossil fuels and stay below agreed limits on global warming. This is the conclusion of a draft U.N. study to be approved this week at a meeting of government officials and climate scientists in Berlin.

Santa Barbara County voters will likely have a chance to choose whether they want be a part of the solution or part of the problem. An organization called the Water Guardians is currently collecting signatures to qualify an initiative to ban fracking and other high-intensity petroleum production in Santa Barbara County for the November ballot. Whether this effort succeeds or fails will likely determine greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade in our County – a critical period during which we need to reduce emissions in order to head-off the worst impacts of climate change.

The Water Guardians Initiative proposes to ban high-intensity oil production: Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted underground to break up the rock and extract oil; acidizing, which adds hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid to dissolve the rock to extract oil; and cyclic steam injection, which uses large amounts of water, steam and energy to heat the thick, heavy oil so it will flow more readily. There are many local environmental concerns with these techniques which can lead to air pollution and water contamination, and expansion of these techniques would also lead to large increases in greenhouse gas emissions in the County.

Unlike in other parts of the country where fracking for natural gas occurs which produces less carbon dioxide when burned than coal and oil, in California, the fracking of the Monterrey Shale is for oil with no potential climate benefit. Since the Monterey Shale formation that extends throughout California is potentially one of the largest shale oil reserves in the country, a ramp up in unconventional oil production would increase state emissions and hinder the state’s ability to take a lead in reducing emissions and transitioning to cleaner sources of energy.

In Santa Barbara County, one company alone (Santa Maria Energy) has 7,700 possible well locations. Using the same rate of emissions per well as their current well project, that works out to 4,971,029 tons of greenhouse gases per year. That is the equivalent of almost one million cars, and it is nearly three times the total current total Countywide emissions. That is just to extract the oil. It doesn’t include additional emissions from transporting, refining or burning that oil.

That is a staggering number. It means that Santa Barbara County could eliminate a hundred percent of its emissions — stop driving, get all our power from solar and wind, eliminate all agricultural emissions — and still triple emissions in the County just from this oil extraction.

Nor is Santa Maria Energy the only company making big investments in these carbon-intensive forms of oil production. One Chinese mining company, Beijing-based Goldleaf Jewelry Co, just invested $665 million and is ramping up production in North County. The Water Guardian’s Initiative would protect the air, water and environment that make the County a desirable place to work and live from these outside speculators.

Santa Barbara County should take a lead in rejecting the most polluting forms of oil production and transitioning to clean sources of energy. Of all the things we can do locally in regard to climate change, this would have the highest impact and is critically important at this time. The stakes could not be greater. Our actions now will determine the future liveability of the planet.

Dr. Catherine Gautier is professor emerita with the Geography Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She was one of 21 climate scientists who signed a letter to Governor Jerry Brown calling for a halt to fracking and other unconventional well stimulation techniques in the state due to climate concerns. She is also co-author of a recent academic book on fracking and Shale gas extraction published in November 2013 by Odile Jocob, France.

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15 Responses to Why a Ban on Fracking is Critical for the Climate

  1. UN is hyper-poltical April 15, 2014 at 8:39 am #

    The UN is too politicized to be a useful resource for anything. Today’s UN will write anything they want, if they think it can trigger more wealth redistribution from the prosperous healthy nations to those long mired in corruption and dysfunction. Don’t take any UN report seriously for anything.

  2. SB County is a debt leader April 15, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    Santa Barbara County is currently one billion dollars in debt to its employee pension funds and $200 million in debt to its infrastructure maintenance and repairs. SB County is going no where but into municipal bankruptcy. It cannot afford to be a leader in anything until it cleans up its massive fiscal bungling.

  3. UCSB needs to be a leader April 15, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    One word: Thorium.

  4. Shelley April 15, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    one of the best pieces I’ve seen writen on the subject thank you.

    • Basic finance April 15, 2014 at 10:46 am #

      Next question. If the county bans future oil development, where are the revenues going to come from to crawl out of the county’s current debt? Fair question.

      Not saying we should develop oil just so the county can continue its free-spending ways, but increased county revenues need to come from somewhere.

      Ideas, anyone?

  5. jillian April 15, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    Agriculture is our county’s #1 industry. Where will the revenues going to come from if we destroy the very water and land needed to sustain it?

    Fracking destroys…not employs.

    • Bums rush April 15, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

      That Matt Damon movie about tracking was fiction. Did you know that? I wouldn’t use it as a factual reference in this discussion.

      Fracking and ag have existed side by side for decades. Whether the county should keep spending so darn much that it needs the extra revenues is really the issue here.

      Don’t get whiplash when the county unions throw the environmentalist under the bus, which is they way the wind is blowing right now.

  6. Anonymous April 15, 2014 at 7:42 pm #

    Sorry, but the potable water supply has to take precedence in a drought, and agriculture needs its water as well if we want to eat. After that come reserves and other critical uses. We have to get real about our water supply: it’s absolutely necessary to sustain life, it’s getting scarce in this part of the world, and we can’t afford to mess around with it.

    Deregulation, good ol’ boy politics and lax oversight has turned our waterways into cesspools and oil slicks and put our public water supplies at risk. Case in point, and to illustrate how fragile our water supply is, is the Virginia chemical spill. 300,000 peoples water supply poisoned, supposedly they can drink it now if they can stomach it. Spike in cancer babies coming up, brought to you by Freedom Industries. Thanks pal.

    Cases in point across the land, as water supplies are contaminated by safe industrial operations that are safe, and are deemed to be safe, and trust me they’re safe, because they’re safe. The water is now safe to drink, trust us. Ignore that smell and gas like taste it’s all in your head. Safety is our goal. That flame coming out of your tap is just the gases coming out of the water and then it’s safe to drink, believe us. You’re safe. You may start to glow in the dark but it’s only temporary. Your safety is our highest priority.

    What’s the point of ruining our water supply for money? The place won’t be worth living in unless Virginia is your idea of paradise. Fracking wells are short lived, but the mess keeps on giving, for the taxpayers, naturally, and citizens, to deal with and pay for.

    It’s all safe, we’ll hear. Until it isn’t, which is about the time the profits are soaring and the cutbacks in safety are implemented to save money to satisfy the stockholders lust for ever larger piles of greenbacks. When the accident happens or the water is ruined, the money buys the lawyers to ensure the citizens end up holding the bag. And drinking the water if they can stomach it. No thanks pal. I want my nice clean fresh tapwater to stay that way.

    Basically fracking represents desperation, grasping for hard to get oil and gas like junkies hunting down a fix. Just like junkies we’ll do anything to get our fix, including ruining our water supply, droning other countries citizens out of existence, ruining our international reputation and squandering all of our built-up hard-won credibility in the world.

    Now looky here, it’s time to ditch the gas and oil habit! You go first. :)

    • Hollywood Scars April 15, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

      Yep, someone saw the Matt Damon movie and thought it was non-fiction.

  7. mememine69 April 15, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    Former climate change believers know science has been 95% certain for 32 years.
    Know YOU know.

    Get ahead of the curve;
    *Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians.
    *Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).

    • Hollywood Scars April 15, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

      Get your score card so you know who to hate:

      1. Corporations
      2. Oil
      3. Banksters
      4. Tea Party
      5. All Republicans
      6. Climate deniers
      7. Church goers
      8. Meat eaters
      9. The 1%
      10. Anyone labeled “rich”
      11. White privilege
      12. Car drivers
      13. Single-family home dwellers
      14. Believers in abstinence before marriage
      15. Wall Street

  8. Barbara April 15, 2014 at 10:41 pm #

    Thanks very much for this, Catherine!

  9. ChangeAgent April 16, 2014 at 11:04 am #

    Until the pro-and-anti-frackers decrease their consumption, the challenges with oil drilling will continue to grow.

    The Prius crowd is a source of the problem as much as anyone else is. It’s not about the miles per gallon folks, it’s about the gallons. If you don’t decrease your consumption, expect exploration to continue to meet the demand.

    The UCSB fracking meeting last month was a great example of the pro/anti crowd and their consumption habits — the parking lots were jammed!! Do we think this was only from pro-tracking drivers?

    We all need to quit pointing fingers and begin to consume less if we want to decrease drilling.

    Until we decrease consumption, we’re going to see plenty of schemes for increasing taxes. And, if experience is the example, we won’t see effective application of those taxes to change much, just the feather the nests of political friends in state and fed positions.

    • Cuppa Tea April 16, 2014 at 11:41 am #

      We need to put breaks on public spending by our city and county government for higher employee job protections, salaries, perks and benefits. Only then can we get off this pro-growth, pro-development train wreck.

      Public employment is an insatiable beast with constant pay increases and benefit promises. How do you keep feeding this beast, when it already consumes 80% of local tax revenues from the start and has crushing looming debts well into the future to make good on promises made to public employee unions today.

      Have you never considered this connection? Have you ever wondered who is really behind all this growth, growth, growth scenario? Not the residents. But yes, the public employees who only have dollar signs in their eyes and who support candidates generously who will promise them even more.

      Instead of linking public employee compensation to actual local revenues based upon the economic health of the community instead of speculative union demands and political promises, you could get off this gluttonous merry-go-round immediately.

      Who is willing to take the first step to de-link public employee union demands from our own community’s future?

  10. Anonymous April 17, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    Yes let’s go the Texas way and deregulate everything. Well guess what in Texas the taxpayers pick up the tab for preventable industrial accidents like the ammonia nitrate explosion that killed 13 and wounded hundreds and leveled public buildings. They don’t believe in regulation in Texas. And that’s what they get for it. That poor company, snivel sniff, can’t afford to comply with basic regulations, and in Texas they don’t even have a fire code, so we get socialized losses, and of course private profits. That company is now doing zilch to help those families and the public rebuild other than PR work, to save it’s reputation and business. No, it’s off to the golf course for those company executives and their stockholders.

    When, not if, water gets contaminated here by fracking, you can be sure that the company responsible will do everything humanly possible to get out of the consequences. I say make them drink gallons of their own fracking fluids as a punishment when that happens, and lock them up for a thousand years for crimes against humanity. . And what in the heck do public employee unions have to do with anything on this subject? Nothing.

    If you or I even pee in a stream we’ll be up on federal charges within the hour, like that guy in Oregon who peed in a lake. If that had been an industrial spill, nothing would have happened to those corporate executives. The frackers destroying our water supply? No punishment, no jail, no charges, no nothing. Don’t take my word for it, look at what has already happened in several US states. That’ll happen here in California too if we don’t do something about it before the fact. Fracking fanatics, move to Texas. They’re gonna love you.