- FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- MAKING WAVES: Though the Santa Barbara Channel has long been home to drilling platforms—as pictured—Central Coast politicians are upset over the recent discovery of previously unknown fracking in the channel. Elected officials want to know exactly where the contested hydraulic fracturing might be happening (it’s not necessarily at the platform in the photo), and have asked for a federal probe.
A recent offshore discovery in the Santa Barbara Channel might help salvage the failed drive to tighten California’s laws on hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
Fracking involves pumping large amounts of water, sand, and chemicals into oil wells to loosen deposits segregated by walls of rock. The legislative session began with a swell of bills aiming to regulate and even ban the controversial oil exploration practice in California. However, the powerful Western States Petroleum Association succeeded in defeating all but one fracking bill before the summer recess.
After several quiet months, the fracking issue received some unexpected attention with the publication of a July 25 report from indy media website Truthout.org, which revealed offshore operators fracked wells in the Santa Barbara Channel more than a dozen times since the 1990s.
News of undisclosed fracking in the same stretch of coastline where a 1969 oil spill helped create the modern environmental movement shocked some Central Coast lawmakers. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) wrote an Aug. 8 letter asking the California Coastal Commission to investigate.
“It has recently come to our attention that hydraulic fracturing is taking place off of the California coast, and in particular, off Santa Barbara County’s pristine coastline,” Jackson wrote. “This revelation is a cause for great concern.”
Jackson, Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), and Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara) also wrote the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department asking for a federal probe. So did Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Thousand Oaks), who authored Senate Bill 4, the lone piece of proposed fracking legislation to survive this far into the session.
SB 4 would require oil operators to publicly disclose the location of fracked wells, specify the amount of water pumped into them, and identify the chemicals used in the process.
Several environmental groups that backed the former bills to stop fracking in California have criticized SB 4 as too weak. Pavley referred to the Santa Barbara report during an Aug. 12 talking heads show as proof that California needs tighter regulations now.
“Hydraulic fracturing is already occurring,” Pavley said. “It’s already happening off the coast and on land.”
Pavley’s office declined to speculate whether the news would help SB 4 through a bill bottleneck reportedly caused by an unusual abundance of freshman lawmakers. One staff member told New Times the bill should get an Appropriations Committee hearing sometime this month.
Jackson press secretary Lisa Gardiner said she expects the Coastal Commission to discuss fracking during its Aug. 15 meeting in Santa Cruz.