Community Members, Environmental and Social Justice Groups Voice Opposition to Proposed Exemption for Oil and Gas Industry From Safe Drinking Water Rules

June 5, 2019

Santa Barbara, CA—Opponents of a proposed expansion of the Cat Canyon aquifer exemption that would help pave the way for more than 700 new wells in Santa Barbara’s Cat Canyon oil field held a rally today before giving public comments at a hearing by regulators.

Oil operators are seeking to exempt aquifers under Cat Canyon from protections under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, allowing them to dispose of wastewater underground and inject steam for oil production. Northern Santa Barbara County residents depend on groundwater for their drinking water and agricultural production. Groups are against the agencies’ consideration of the proposal before the release of the U.S. Geological Survey’s forthcoming data on the groundwater quality in Cat Canyon oil field. Nevertheless, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the ultimate decisionmaker and if it approves the exemption, it could open the door for more oil and gas projects in our County.

“Access to clean water is a human right,” said Ana Rosa Rizo-Centino, senior Central Coast organizer with Food & Water Watch. “The Safe Drinking Water Act exists to protect families from toxic pollutants. Approving this aquifer exemption would needlessly put North County families at risk and make a mockery of the responsibility of regulators to public health.”

The proposed aquifer exemption would allow underground disposal of oil wastewater, which can contain benzene, toluene and other cancer-causing chemicals. The U.S. Geological Survey recently found evidence of groundwater contamination in the neighboring Orcutt oil field.

“We cannot ignore the fact that recent data from the U.S. Geological Survey confirms that oil-field fluids have contaminated our local groundwater resources,” said Tara Messing, Staff Attorney for the Environmental Defense Center. “Oil operators must not be allowed to bypass legal protections for safe drinking water and inject their toxic wastewater into our basin, threatening our valuable groundwater resources.”

Lane Clark, president of the board of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) in Santa Barbara said his interfaith alliance could not support putting the groundwater at risk.

“The fact that the companies poised to reap huge profits from the drilling are requesting exemptions from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act regulations shows that they are not acting for the benefit of local communities,” said Clark. “As people of faith, we have a moral responsibility to change course, and do all that is within our power to protect the long-term habitability of our one and only earth for all species that belong to her.”

Others sounded the alarm about dramatically increasing oil production in the County.

“We’re in a climate crisis and simply can’t drill any more wells, yet this proposal could more than triple dirty onshore oil production in Santa Barbara County,” said Lauren Packard, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “You can be sure Trump’s EPA will rubberstamp this giveaway to the oil industry. That’s why Governor Newsom must intervene to stop this dangerous plan.”

Local residents and advocates planned to testify at the hearing before California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the State Water Resources Control Board and the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. The public has until June 20th to submit written comments.


Food & Water Watch mobilizes regular people to build political power to move bold & uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water, and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people’s health, communities, and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.

The Environmental Defense Center, a non-profit law firm, protects and enhances the local environment through education, advocacy, and legal action and works primarily within Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties. Since 1977, EDC has empowered community-based organizations to advance environmental protection. EDC’s focus areas include protection of the Santa Barbara Channel, ensuring clean water, preserving open space and wildlife, and addressing climate and energy

CLUE SB is a charity and network of inter-faith community leaders and members. Support our mission to address the root causes of local economic injustices to those marginalized in Santa Barbara County.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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