Oil's Not Well

Businesses watch their bottom line. Taxpayers rely on elected officials to watch our bottom line.

If taxpayers could be stuck with costs that exceed tax revenue from a oil well, it would be financially irresponsible for elected officials to approve it.

The companies proposing to drill 750 wells in Cat Canyon could take decades of profits, then when it is discovered the wells are contaminating the Santa Maria Aquifer, go bankrupt.

Tax revenue from oil drilling is good. Oil jobs are good, but they account for just 0.7 percent of jobs, while usable water is the foundation of Santa Maria's entire economy.

What is the risk of punching 750 holes that connect the only water supply for 200,000 people to oil-bearing formations? For the drillers, the risk is limited by bankruptcy and the likelihood that contamination will manifest after revenue.

Will the drillers post a bond or purchase insurance sufficient to fix the groundwater or replace it? If not, the public is on the hook for this financial and heath risk, which could be in the many, many billions.

How likely are you or your kids to be stuck with this bill? If you are a taxpayer, you are paying now for clean up after bankrupt oil companies in Santa Barbara County. Venoco posted a $36 million bond to decommission Platform Holly, and taxpayers are picking up another $100 million. After three years and $1.4 million, a leaking well was finally capped on the beach in Summerlandl. It was so old no one knows who drilled it. Both these cleanups are for problems easily accessible, at the surface. Neither is guaranteed to be permanent. What if the problem is 750 new holes, leaking casings, and cracks from steam pressure in rock a mile underground, contaminating an entire aquifer? What would that cost to fix?

Drilling should be permitted where it is feasible for oil companies to cover the cost of all impacts, and that means staying away from critical water supplies.