Insights into fracking in Santa Barbara County

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Last month, KCRW held a live panel discussion about the one-year anniversary of the Refugio Oil Spill and the future of oil production and transportation in Santa Barbara County.

We asked you what questions you had, and proposed them to our panel of experts.

Would you please comment on the BOEM and BSEE analysis that has given the go ahead for fracking in the Santa Barbara Channel?

As part of a court ordered settlement last February, the Obama administration halted permit applications for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) by oil companies. The settlement placed a moratorium on fracking in federal waters off the coast of California.

However, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued a report in late May that ended the settlement. The report found that fracking – the process of high-pressure drilling to reach deep oil wells – presents little harm to the environment. The Obama administration allowed oil companies to resume applying for fracking permits following the report.

The federal report states that the fracking process is strictly regulated according to current permit requirements and that fracking is an uncommon occurrence. For these reasons, it claims fracking has minimal environmental impact.

Joe Armendariz, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, says the report is reliable. He points to Obama’s reputation as a “well-regarded environmentalist” and the infrequent use of fracking (about 25 instances in the past 30 years) to extract oil as reason to conclude that fracking off the coast of California is safe.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States will be nearly 80 percent reliant on fossil fuels for transportation by 2030. Armendariz says fracking is important to meeting these fuel demands in the coming decades. “We’re not going to have the luxury of not using oil and gas for decades to come,” he said, “so the question is where should we do it and how should we do it? We submit that the best place to do it is in California in general and, perhaps, Santa Barbara County in particular.”

However, environmentalists in California disagree with the findings of the federal report and the decision to allow fracking permit applications. Linda Krop, Chief Counsel at the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), says “Whether it’s fracking or some other kind of new, risky, and polluting technology, we think it’s a big threat both in terms of the proposals but also in terms of impacts to the environment.”

Through Freedom of Information Act Requests, the EDC found that over 50 fracking applications in the Santa Barbara Channel have been approved.

USGS has linked fracking to geologic instability leading to earthquakes. Discuss fracking and earthquakes here in the unstable SB Channel.

Although the U.S. Geologic Survey has identified fracking as the cause of some earthquakes, these quakes are extremely small. The USGS reports that they are “almost always too small to be a safety concern.”

The USGS’ studies of fracking and earthquakes have been conducted throughout the Midwest states. Dr. David Valentine, Professor of Earth Science and Biology at UCSB, says “the geology here [California] is entirely different, and those studies can’t just be applied to what happens out here because the nature of the reservoirs they are working in here are already completely fractured.” Studies must be done locally to know exactly how fracking and earthquakes are related in the Santa Barbara Channel.

What is the source of water used for fracking offshore?

David Valentine from UCSB says the waters used for well injection are sourced from the oil reservoirs. They are withdrawn and then reinjected.

What is the most effective way for citizens to get involved in protecting the Santa Barbara Channel from fracking?

Linda Krop, Chief Counsel at the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), says: “Unfortunately, the federal agencies that oversee oil drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel have a history of rubber stamping permits for fracking and acidizing and it is very difficult for the public to have access to such permits to even find out what is happening before it occurs.

“EDC is actively monitoring for new permits that approve these practices and is working hard to ensure public transparency and analysis of environmental impacts. Sign up for our email list (at to be notified of specific actions you can take at key times to pressure the government to protect the Channel from the impacts of fracking and acidizing.”

What do you want to know about Santa Barbara or the region? Ask your question and we’ll investigate!