Drilling Bans on Three California County Ballots Today

San Benito and Santa Barbara County voters will decide on fracking ban measures on Tuesday that go beyond the controversial extraction technology by including acidization and "steam flooding." Mendocino County will also have a fracking ban measure.

2 minute read

November 4, 2014, 7:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

"Only one of the counties, Santa Barbara, is a major oil producer," writes David R. Baker, who covers energy and clean tech for The San Francisco Chronicle. "San Benito has just 26 wells, and none has been fracked. The third county, Mendocino, has no active oil wells, according to state records."

That hasn't stopped the energy industry from spending $7.7 million to fight the measures, perhaps in part because "provisions would pose problems for many oil producers that don’t frack," writes Baker. "They often use acid to keep debris from clogging their wells. And steam flooding has become common in the heavy-oil fields near Bakersfield," the center of California's oil industry. The state is biggest oil producer after Texas and North Dakota.

Drilling opponents are particularly concerned about groundwater contamination and use of scarce water for fracking.

Oil companies consider fracking safe, saying they’ve used it in California for decades without a single documented case of groundwater contamination. They consider the proposed bans little more than an attempt to strangle oil production in the state.

Unable to pass a statewide fracking moratorium in June after Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 4 in September, 2013, the nation's strongest fracking bill opposed by both the Sierra Club and the oil industry, "environmentalists shifted their focus to local politics," writes Baker. Moratoriums or bans have already been passed by the city councils of Carson (though it was lifted after it expired), Beverly Hills, and Los Angeles and the county supervisors of Santa Cruz County.

In addition to the three California counties, voters in Denton, Texas will decide on Tuesday whether to become the state’s first city to ban fracking.

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