Measure P – the Healthy Air and Water Initiative – would protect our air, water, and public health by banning new risky, polluting oil extraction techniques in Santa Barbara County. Unfortunately, the oil industry that is funding the opposition is spreading misinformation regarding the true impact of this measure. As an attorney who assisted in the drafting of Measure P, I am compelled to set the record straight so the voters can base their opinions on the true facts.
By Linda Krop, Chief Counsel, Environmental Defense Center
First, what does Measure P do?
Measure P prohibits land uses that support new “high intensity petroleum operations” in Santa Barbara County. These operations include fracking, acidizing, and steam injection.
What projects does Measure P apply to?
Measure P only applies to new high intensity oil and gas projects.
Measure P does not apply to existing projects, even if they involve high intensity petroleum operations.
Measure P does not apply to conventional oil and gas projects, even if they are new.
Measure P does not apply to projects that are “vested,” meaning that even if the project hasn’t been completed, but all permits have been issued and work has begun, it can be completed.
Measure P does not apply to a project if it would result in a taking of private property, meaning that it deprives the property owner of all or substantially all uses of their property. Such projects would be exempt from Measure P.
Does Measure P apply to well maintenance?
No, by the county’s own regulations, well maintenance does not fit within the definition of high intensity petroleum operations. Instead, the county defines well maintenance as “well servicing,” which is not covered by Measure P.
Opponents of Measure P often cite a report prepared by county staff to support their contention that Measure P will ban existing operations. That report incorrectly equated “secondary or enhanced recovery technique[s]” with “well maintenance.” Because of this mistake, the County Board of Supervisors refused to accept the report.
The subsequent Impartial Analysis prepared by County Counsel clarified that Measure P only applies to “well stimulation treatments,” including fracking and acid well stimulation, and other measures to enhance production by waterflood injection, steam flood injection, and cyclic steam injection. By the county’s own definition, these methods are only prohibited if they are intended to enhance production — not the maintainance of the wells.
Will Measure P shut down all existing operations in the county?
No, existing operations will not be impacted by Measure P. Any new regulation only operates prospectively, and cannot apply to operations that are currently legal and permitted. Therefore, Measure P will not affect existing jobs or revenue.
The Fiscal Impact Statement prepared by the County Auditor confirms that Measure P does not affect existing operations by pointing out that any potential fiscal impact, such as a reduction in property taxes, will only happen “over time” as minerals deplete. The report also goes on to point out that revenues could even go up if “new oil and gas reserves are discovered and are extracted using primary recovery methods.”
The County Auditor also pointed out that “a decrease in oil and gas processing will benefit the county by lowering the risk of potential fiscal costs related to any environmental damage from the oil and gas extraction process.”
Will Measure P result in costly litigation for the county?
Opponents claim that Measure P will result in a lot of new lawsuits for takings against the county. However, as discussed before, Measure P simply does not apply if there would be a taking. Instead, those operations would be exempt from Measure P.
The county has developed an administrative process before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to resolve any potential takings claims. If the county determines that application of Measure P would involve a taking, an exemption would be granted and the operator could proceed without the need for a lawsuit.
Measure P provides needed safeguards to protect our county and is legally defensible.
Will Measure P cost Santa Barbara County jobs and money?
No. As mentioned previously, Measure P doesn’t apply to existing oil operations; therefore no existing jobs or cunty revenue will be affected. In fact, as noted by the County Auditor, the county may actually save money by not having to respond to environmental damage caused by high risk oil and gas development operations.
As we have learned from painful experience, the costs from oil spills can be extremely high, even catastrophic. Voting “yes” on Measure P will ban new applications for some of the riskiest oil extraction techniques while allowing the oil industry to continue with traditional drilling and existing operations.
Now that you know the truth, please vote “yes” on Measure P.
Linda Krop has served as chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center since 1999. She is a past recipient of the Sierra Club Award of Appreciation for Outstanding Achievement, U.S. Senator Boxer’s Conservation Champion Award, and The Santa Barbara Independent Local Hero Award and currently teaches at UCSB.
This op-ed was originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent online on October 8, 2014.