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Fracking ban passes in 2 of 3 California counties

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POSTED November 5, 2014 6:56 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Voters in California’s Santa Barbara County rejected a ban on fracking and most other intensive drilling in the oceanside county’s more than century-old oil fields, while two other California coastal communities with comparatively little oil adopted stringent prohibitions.

Two-thirds of Santa Barbara County’s voters Tuesday came out against the fracking ban, which also would have prohibited new permits for cyclic steam injection, the most common method of coaxing oil out of aging fields in Santa Barbara County and in California as a whole. Voters in San Benito and Mendocino counties approved the bans.

California is the country’s third-largest petroleum-producing state. California’s legislature is moving this year to increase monitoring of fracking and other intensive production, but has left it to individual communities to decide whether they want to limit drilling methods.

Santa Barbara County voters heeded warnings from the oil industry and business groups that the measure there would cost the county more than $300 million that the oil industry pumps into its economy annually.

Ken Oplinger, head of the Chamber of Commerce of the Santa Barbara Region, which opposed the ban, said it would have eventually shut all oil production down in the county.

Northern Santa Barbara County has more than 1,100 active wells. Producers typically use steam injected at high pressure to force oil from fields that have been drained of more easily accessed oil. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a yet-more powerful extraction method, using fluids and chemicals to break up rocks containing oil.

Santa Barbara County has hosted oil derricks since the late 19th century. A 1969 offshore well blowout in the Santa Barbara channel devastated area sea life, coated beaches in layers of oil up to six inches thick, and helped give rise to the modern environmental movement and to current national and state environmental legislation.

Supporters of the proposed fracking bans argue that contamination of water supplies from fracking and other intensive drilling is inevitable. Proponents also said California should be moving away from production of fossil fuels, whose use is producing climate-changing quantities of carbon.

Local and national oil companies spent more than $7 million to defeat the measure in Santa Barbara and San Benito counties. Passage of the Santa Barbara County ban would have exposed the county to significant lawsuits and the loss of jobs, Rock Zierman of the California Independent Petroleum Association said Wednesday.

Provisions in the ban in Mendocino County, which has negligible petroleum drilling, and in San Benito County, home to some small oil producers, also would ban steam injection and other intensive measures as well as fracking.

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