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Santa Barbara Ballot Measure Aims to Ban 'Aggressive' Drilling

California’s Santa Barbara County has an initiative (Measure P) on the November ballot aimed at restricting, if not banning, most enhanced drilling practices. A new statewide law (SB 4) sets rules, reporting and permitting requirements for what is designated as "well stimulation" drilling, which includes hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and various acidization processes.

Currently, there is no fracking activity or fracking permits requested in Santa Barbara County, the communications manager for the Measure P opposition group told NGI's Shale Daily on Monday. However, the other banned drilling practices, acidization and cyclic steam injection -- processes used for the past 50 years -- would essentially shut down all 1,200 active wells in the county, he said, calling Measure P a "deceptive and complex" ballot measure. Cyclic steaming is specifically exempted from SB 4's provisions.

Proponents of the measure argue that it will not impact existing traditional oil/gas operations in the county, but the anti-P spokesperson says there is a Catch 22 embedded in the initiative that offers exemptions to existing wells based on "vested rights." But in California for operators to continue under vested rights they need the necessary permits, and those permits are not allowed when acidization or cyclic steaming are involved, the spokesperson said.

About half of the existing 1,200 wells use the cyclic steaming process, and the county energy director has said that eventually every well in the county will fall under the provisions of Measure P. If the Santa Barbara measure passes, operators in the county will he hamstrung, according to a state energy attorney with the Department of Conservation, James Pierce, who spoke at a fracking workshop earlier this month in Los Angeles

Other local jurisdictions are now picking up on the movement to impose local restrictions. In May, the elected five-member board of supervisors for Santa Cruz County in Northern California established a countywide ban on fracking, saying that they hoped their action would pressure Gov. Jerry Brown into doing the same statewide.

Within days of Santa Cruz's action, the California state Senate rejected a bill (SB 1132) seeking to establish a moratorium on the use of fracking as the state continued the process for finalizing new rules from SB 4 (see Shale Daily, May 30).

Now Santa Barbara County has Measure P on the November ballot, bidding to eliminate what supporters call "aggressive" oil and gas drilling methods, while not impacting traditional drilling operations. Industry representatives contend it will shut down oil/gas operations in the county.

"Well stimulation by SB4's definition does not include steam flooding, water flooding or cyclic steaming, Pierce said. "This is not fracking; you're just trying to squeegee off the oil deposits."

In contrast, a local water conservation organization said residents and businesses in the county cannot afford to let oil/gas companies "use our water." Oil and gas industry organizations and individual companies have faced similar measures in the past in Santa Barbara County (see Shale Daily, May 28, 2013), and they continue to face them in various local areas around the nation.

Elsewhere in California, San Benito County has a ballot measure pending that would prohibit fracking, and related gas and oil extraction activities. The measure would also prohibit other "high-intensity" petroleum operations, including acid well stimulation and cyclic steam injection. It would also prohibit any new gas or oil drilling activity -- even conventional, low-intensity activity -- in areas of the county zoned for residential or rural land use.

Also in Butte County northeast of Sacramento, a similar measure would prohibit fracking and related activities. The Citizen Action Network, coordinating with the Butte Environmental Council, started a petition drive campaign called Frack-Free Butte County to put this initiative on the November ballot.

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