Santa Barbara County is moving ahead with plans to protect itself from lawsuits if a so-called “anti-fracking” ballot measure passes in November.
Meeting in a summer recess special hearing, County Supervisors have agreed to pursue a new ordinance that would provide exemptions to Measure P.
The ballot initiative would ban future “high-intensity” oil and gas production in the unincorporated areas of the County including fracking, steam injection, and acid well stimulation.
Supervisors were told Santa Barbara County faces lawsuits if Measure P passes with the presumption that claims would involve the illegal “taking” of private property and mineral rights.
The Board was also told the County of Santa Barbara would be on the hook financially for all legal claims with no insurance coverage due to the nature of the claim.
“In this area the county’s insurance expressly excludes “takings” damages or “takings” risks, so the county is essentially self-insured”, Ghizzoni told Supervisors, “there are at least several expressed threats of litigation, so we are ciertainly planning for some amount of litigation.”
Those supporting Measure P told County Supervisors there is no legal ambiguity in the language of the proposed ballot measure.
“Based on existing judicial precedent, we firmly disagree with the industry’s analysis and conclusion, as discussed below, the initiative does not rise to the level of per se “taking” of all economically valuable land affected by the prohibition on high intensity petroleum operations”, one supporter told the Board Tuesday morning, “any individual property owner claiming that the application of the initiative will result with the unconstitutional taking of property is unlikely to succeed given the limited property interest potentially affected by the initiative, the speculative nature of any future profit from high intensity petroleum operations and the initiative’s incorporation.”
“We believe that the initiative is likely to pass constitutional muster if challenged in a court of law”, the same speaker said.
Others challenged the local energy industry to back up its claim there’s no environmental or public health threat from so-called high-intensity oil or gas extraction which is at the heat of Measure P.
“If the oil industry is so confident that there is no risk, would they indemnify the county and all its residents against any and all damage that may arise from these extreme oil techniques?”, another man said.
Currently there is no fracking going on anywhere onshore in Santa Barbara County and of the 1200 or so wells currently in production in the County, about half are using steam injection.
“Does the ballot initiative expressly exempt existing (oil and gas) operations?”, asked Board of Supervisors Chair Steve Lavagnino, who called for the special Board meeting, to County Counsel Mike Ghizzoni.
“Chair Lavagnino, the short answer is the measure does not use the term existing operations in any of its exemptions”, Ghizzoni said, “it has a different approach, and that is to have a broad general prohibition.”
Supervisors agreed to pursue an ordinance that would provide exemptions to Measure P if it passes in November.
“The goal is to have something in place so that there is a process for a person who can claim an exemption to Measure P to continue to operate”, Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said.
The Measure P exemption ordinance is expected to be back up for a final vote by the Board of Supervisors later in the year but before the November election.