Over the weekend, the Water Guardians – a grassroots environmental group – launched a campaign to ban fracking in my home county of Santa Barbara. Over the next month, they plan to collect thousands of signatures to qualify the ban for the November election.
What is interesting is how the politics and sentiments surrounding fracking in Santa Barbara and California are representative of those across the nation.
First, as people learn about the risks of fracking, they are increasingly taking action – or at least trying to take action – to protect the environment and public health. From the chemicals injected underground to the natural gas that is flared, fracking pollutes our water and air and harms our quality of life. Pittsburgh was the first city to ban fracking back in November 2010, followed by other East Coast cities. In May 2013, Mora County in New Mexico became the first county to enact a ban. The City Council of Los Angeles – the second largest city in the country – recently voted unanimously to draft rules to ban fracking. Now concerned citizens are bringing the anti-fracking campaign to Santa Barbara.
Second, Santa Barbara is working to ban fracking against the backdrop of state inaction. While California’s legislature did vote to regulate fracking and acidizing (another dangerous drilling technique) last September, the law does little more than require drillers to obtain permits and follow disclosure practices. And while New York has placed a moratorium on fracking and other high-intensity petroleum operations, the dirty drilling process runs rampant in Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, Colorado, Louisiana, and elsewhere – all despite an increasing number of municipalities coming out in opposition.
Third, the fracking ban in Santa Barbara is a precautionary, but necessary action. Precautionary because drilling companies, by and large, have yet to figure out a way to extract much of the gas and oil cost-effectively from California’s shale. Necessary because these companies are scrambling to adapt high-volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in ways that will make fossil fuel production profitable, and if they do – or the price of oil or natural gas increases – there could be a 21st century fossil fuel rush. The more municipalities in California that ban fracking now, the more of our air, water and open spaces will be protected for the future.