VC Star Oped by CFROG supporter Jan Dietrick Climate Change activist

Climate scores two wins over oil

Jan Dietrick


Tuesday, theclimate won over oil industry opposition to local ballot measures in San Benito and Mendocino counties where citizen farmer coalitions achieved strong voter support to ban fracking. 

The big oil companies prevailed, however, in Santa Barbara County spending $7 million to fight Measure P, a third ballot initiative in California that sought to ban new onshore well permits for three unconventional methods of oil extraction: fracking, acidization and cyclic steaming. 

The oil industry dominated airwaves with fear tactics about Measure P, that it would ban all oil drilling and harm jobs and charitable organizations. Homes would be destroyed from a lack of firefighters. Opponents spent $135 per vote to run this narrative despite it being impossible within the language of the measure. 

Other disturbing news got less airtime. In October, the Central Valley Water Board confirmed that at least nine oil wastewater disposal wells received 3 billion gallons of oil industry waste injection into drinking water aquifers. Wells are now testing high for arsenic, thallium and nitrates — contaminants sometimes found in oil industry wastewater. 

Also, news broke of Anterra Corp., a wastewater disposal facility in Oxnard, being cited for hauling many times more tankers than permitted for oil extraction waste disposal into its well. 

Testing has begun of 100 water wells to gauge consequences from high pressure injection disposal of oil industry wastewater containing benzene, toluene and other toxic and radioactive chemicals. Benzene can migrate underground for many years and take decades to clean up, similar to the Santa Susana aquifer contamination by rocket test site perchlorates. 

Meanwhile, California planners, under pressure of a state of emergency drought, released a 50-year $500 billion plan to conserve, protect and clean up water supplies threatened by contamination and to mitigate the threat of desertification of the San Joaquin Valley from climate change. 

Referring to the first state water plan in 1957, Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird said, “We did not have the impacts of climate change that we do now, and we did not have the pressure to make water conservation a way of life.” 

The water use proposed by energy companies for cyclic steaming could eventually tap all available nonpotable recycledwater used in Santa Barbara County for landscaping and potentially for farms, businesses and homes. 

About cyclic steaming of oil from shale, heating the water dumps tons of CO2 into the air adding to climate impacts Measure P sought to reduce. Oil threatens the climate. 

Last week, the International Panel on Climate Change, in its synthesis report, stated that carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide (fossil fuels are the largest transformable source) are higher than they have been in at least 800,000 years. If human society continues emitting greenhouse gases at the current rate, climate change will, in the IPCC’s words, be “severe, widespread and irreversible.” 

Connect the dots about Measure P: Millions in big oil funding convinced 63 percent of voters to support extracting the last drops of oil. Voters approved using scarce water and risking irreversible contamination of municipal wastewater that the state meanwhile is planning to reclaim. 

Voters accepted rhetoric from an industry caught dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into groundwater. Voters did not relate to the spectacular water plan addressing consequences of catastrophic climate change. Ironically, renewable energy generates three times more jobs than oil and the Monterey shale oil contributes little to total energy sourcing but pollutes more than any other form of energy. 

Measure P illustrates the kind of election money can buy. 

Californians need clean election laws. Meanwhile, America can put a price on carbon to stop the reign of such economic and political distortion. A new Congress can prioritize a climate bill sending an urgently needed price signal generating clean energy jobs and a shift from oil — oil that must be left in the ground to prevent runaway climate change. 

Jan Dietrick is Ventura group leader for the Citizens Climate Lobby.