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Students, Environmental Groups Protest Fracking

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Students and environmental organizers protest oil extraction in response to Tuesday’s pipe rupture. Cheryl Sun/Daily Nexus

by Cheryl Sun

Local grassroots climate justice organization, 350 Santa Barbara, hosted a demonstration and press conference at Santa Barbara County Courthouse Thursday to protest against hydraulic fracturing and other “extreme” forms of oil extraction in response to the Refugio State Beach oil spill on Tuesday.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting liquid at high pressures into underground fissures to obtain oil or gas. The protest called for Gov. Jerry Brown to stop onshore and offshore fracking in Santa Barbara. First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider were among several speakers at the protest.

Santa Barbara County organizer of Food & Water Watch, co-founder of 350 Santa Barbara and organizer of the protest, Rebecca Claassen said she hopes to pressure Brown into implementing a moratorium on fracking in Santa Barbara and gradually decrease local dependence on oil. Food & Water Watch is a Washington D.C.-based group advocating for consumer rights related to food, water and fishing.

“We need Governor Brown to enact an emergency moratorium on onshore fracking,” Claassen said. “Fracking and extreme extraction represent an expansion of oil and gas development in California, when we should be phasing it out.”

According to Environmental Defense Center Chief Counsel Linda Krop, oil drilling and usage can lead to harmful environmental effects despite extensive precautions and technological advancements in oil drilling and transport across the industry, a problem that she said is evidenced by the May 19 oil spill at Refugio State Beach.

“This tragedy reminds us that oil development is inherently dangerous and risky, there is no way to prevent a spill like this from happening,” Krop said. “This spill happened from a relatively new pipeline with modern technology, regulated under current laws and, yet, look what happened.”

UCSB alumna and 350 Santa Barbara member Susan Braden said, in addition to tarnishing the beach, the Refugio oil spill will damage marine life and contaminate locally caught seafood. According to Braden, the spill is a “slow moving kind of disaster” that will continue to affect Santa Barbara for years to come.

“It isn’t just beauty … that oil will find its way into our food chain and the fish that we eat that are caught locally,” Braden said. “The ramifications for this are going to go on for years and years.”

Santa Barbara Sierra Club Chair Katie Davis said oil companies are planning to expand local drilling. The Santa Barbara Sierra Club is a group aiming to protect the environment and promote the use of renewable energy sources along the county coastline.

“There’s a proposal to expand drilling right off of Isla Vista onshore … they want to parallel drill horizontally along the whole Isla Vista coastline,” Davis said. “UCSB was just named the greenest public university of the country, it’s not right that they would expand drilling there and connect to that pipe that just burst.”

Carbajal said the oil spill is both economically and environmentally harmful, and Santa Barbara should shift away from fossil fuels and towards more sustainable forms of energy.

“Not only is this a major disaster for our environment, but it’s a major disaster for our global economy,” Carbajal said. “This is a wakeup call for our community to really start moving more aggressively toward renewable energy sources.”

Schneider said the county requires an energy solution that will continue to provide jobs to those currently in the oil industry.

“We need to figure a way to get away from fossil fuels and … to do it in a way that allows people who are currently in the industry to be able to have jobs and to be able to move forward in a way that’s economically sustainable for them,” Schneider said.

World Business Academy Executive Director Matt Renner said businesses and environmental groups should work together to determine an energy source that is beneficial to both parties. The World Business Academy is a non-profit organization working to encourage businesses to assume social and environmental responsibilities.

“This cannot be a business versus environmental issue anymore,” Renner said. “Responsible business doesn’t pollute the ocean. Responsible business builds the infrastructure that we’re going to need to come into alignment with the earth and with the planet.”

Chumash Elder Marcus Lopez said indigenous communities globally have advocated for expanded environmental conservation efforts for decades and will continue to do so. The Chumash people are Native Americans who have resided in Santa Barbara for millennia.

“Indigenous populations throughout the world have been crying out for the last 50 or more years about how we have to … respect our mother earth, how we have to realize our relationship with one-[another],” Lopez said. “Let’s roll up our sleeves, men and women, children of all ages, and go in this direction with a vision of the future.”

Fourth-year UCSB sociology major Paige Craine said she is in favor of halting fracking despite its profit potential. According to Craine, the youth population has the ability to make a difference through protests and similar events.

“I think [a moratorium] is a good first step, I think the best thing is to ban [fracking] altogether but I know that that’s hard especially because people make money off of it,” Craine said. “I think the younger generations like us being here today is really important because it is our future and if we say we want them gone, hopefully they’ll listen.”

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