Wines & Vines Home
   
 
Welcome Guest
LOGIN |  CREATE ACCOUNT
 
ADVERTISEMENT
 
 
 
08.21.2011  
 

California Vineyard Gets Fracked

Petroleum extraction sneaks into Santa Barbara wine country

 
by Jane Firstenfeld
 
 
santa barbara vineyard fracking
 
Venoco secured drilling permits near Los Alamos, where locals say it is performing hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, for oil.
Los Alamos, Calif.—Hydraulic fracturing, a controversial petroleum extraction method better known as hydrofracking or fracking, has begun in a Santa Barbara County vineyard. Oil drilling, including highly visible offshore platforms, has been going on in the Central Coast county for decades, but fracking is new here. Some area residents are questioning how and why Venoco, a Denver, Colo.-based energy company, was allowed to proceed. Spokesman Mike Edwards confirmed to Wines & Vines that Venoco had fracked the two Los Alamos wells, but denied the company planned any more in the area.

According to Doug Anthony, deputy director of Santa Barbara’s planning and development energy division, Venoco requested two drilling permits near Los Alamos, as they have done routinely for many oil wells in the county. What makes fracking different is its use of massive quantities of water and “proprietary formulas” of chemicals to loosen shale substrata and extract petroleum: most commonly natural gas, but in this case oil.

“They injected. We found out after the fact, and they won’t do it again,” Anthony told Wines & Vines. Worried about ground water levels and quality, ranchers were upset, he said. “We don’t know how big an issue it is. The two wells were fairly deep, below the ground water. In the future, they will have to provide a California Environmental Impact Report,” he said.

The current wells are installed on a 3,100-acre cattle ranch, where owner Steve Lyons also grows some 110 acres of vineyard, planted to premium winegrapes between 1990 and 2008. The drilling was not his choice: Previous owners had retained the mineral rights, allowing Venoco access to his property.

The unsightly operation is, fortunately, separated from the rest of the ranch by a ridge and barbed wire; it’s posted with signs warning of carcinogenic chemicals. A pipeline to dispose of toxic wastewater runs through Lyons’ vines.

“This did not happen with our permission,” added Tom Prendiville, general manager of the ranch. “Sustainable land is part of my DNA.” He noted that a subterranean aquifer runs away from the vineyard, so vines are not contaminated.

“When the permits were issued, people on the West Coast didn’t know about fracking,” Prendiville commented. Eastern and Midwestern residents have heard more about the controversial process. Following heated debate, New York slapped a temporary moratorium on fracking, after intensive lobbying from the Finger Lakes wine industry, among other interests.

santa barbara vineyard fracking
 
Looking east from the same ridge, vineyards flourish in Santa Barbara County.

No regulations in California
Despite an abundance of petroleum deposits, to date California has no regulations on fracked wells, does not record their numbers or location, nor require operators to reveal what chemicals they use. A bill passed by the state assembly, if enacted, would force reporting.

According to Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, however, “The Assembly bill has been watered down to where it is meaningless. I’m not in favor of (the oil industry) being able to tell us after the fact. It’s like saying, ‘Let us use nuclear waste and tell you five years later.’ It’s not prudent or transparent: It’s not good government.”

Carbajal expressed various concerns about fracking, including the fact that it is not addressed under the federal Safe Drinking Act (U.S. Rep. Lois Caps of Santa Barbara will convene a panel Sept. 1 to investigate.)

“This could have implications for drinking, surface and ground water and air quality,” Carbajal noted. Fracking could affect water, the environment and agriculture, food supplies and the county’s tax base.

Carbajal suggested that oil companies would be wise to work with local, state and federal agencies: “Our goal is not to stifle their ability to achieve, our objective is to preserve public health.” He likened the drillers to Big Tobacco, living in a fantasy world of denial. “Eventually, they had to pay,” he noted.

Jim Fiolek, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association, encouraged open communication on all sides. “Our entire industry must understand how it can affect our agriculture. Our position is to nip it in the bud.”

What can wine industry do?
Stephan Bedford owns Los Alamos’ only winery, 5,000-case Bedford Winery. He, too, called for open dialogue about fracking’s future in Santa Barbara and throughout California. “Who has jurisdiction?” he questioned, citing fire danger and environmental controls. “No one takes a central role, even to get baseline readings” of contamination, he complained.

Bedford is particularly concerned about reduced water tables and potential saltwater intrusion into the vital aquifer. Transportation of wastewater is another worry: Are aged pipe casings sufficient to the task?

Wine is a growth industry in Santa Barbara County (five new wineries since March bring the county’s total to 183, according to WinesVines DATA), but “the opposition frames us as anti-growth,” Bedford said.  “We must use the te chnology we have to implement safety procedures,” for transporting both water and oil. Fortunately, he said, “There is starting to be grassroots reaction and public concern.”

He lauded 3rd District supervisor Doreen Farr, who is leading local mobilization. Farr told Wines & Vines that local governments can be more nimble than state and federal levels.

“It’s incumbent for local government to take a close look, see what we can do to tighten regulations and really scrutinize what’s going on,” Farr insisted. In addition to tightening application and review processes, she called for an enhanced “penalty phase” for operators that are out of compliance. “We need an enforcement tool that’s up to the task.” Keeping the pressure on Sacramento and Washington, D.C., is also imperative, she said. 

“If enough members of the public make their voices heard by calling, writing, emailing, attending hearings, it can be very effective,” Farr pointed out. The Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors has already held two public hearings about hydrofracking; a third is scheduled for Sept. 20. Email supervisor Farr for details.

SHARE »
Close
LATEST READER COMMENTS
 
 
Posted on 08.23.2011 - 09:59:38 PST
 
Jane,

Many kudos to you for the fine article. I was shocked to hear of the fracking operations ANYWHERE in California in view of the relatively unstable geology here. I seem to recall reading that fracking clearly increases earthquake danger wherever it has been used. Bad enough in Finger Lakes but just plain greedy/crazy in coastal California.
 
lynn
 
san diego, CA USA
 
 
CURRENT NEWS INDEX »


 
Wines & Vines Home
 
866.453.9701 | 415.453.9700 | Fax: 415.453.2517
65 Mitchell Blvd., Ste. A San Rafael, CA 94903
info@winesandvines.com
Wine Industry Metrics
 
Off-Premise Sales » Month   12 Months  
November 2014 $708 million
5%
$7,844 million
6%
November 2013 $673 million $7,428 million
     
Direct-to-Consumer Shipments » Month   12 Months  
November 2014 $274 million
21%
$1,799 million
16%
November 2013 $225 million $1,558 million
     
Winery Job Index » Month   12 Months  
November 2014 127
-5%
226
15%
November 2013 134 196
     
 
MORE » Released on 12.15.2014
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 

FEATURES
 

Practical Winery & Vineyard Library
 
Search the PWV archive »
 
 

Direct To Consumer
Wine Shipping Report
2014
 
Download full report »
 
 

CALENDAR
  • January 7
     
    Putting Your Brand to Work
     
  • January 9-18
     
    Icewine Festival
     
  • January 13-16
     
    VinCO
     
  • January 15
     
    WineFlavor 101B
     
  • MORE »
 

READER COMMENTS
 
Article: Grape Industry Lukewarm on Immigration Act »
 
A band-aid it may be but instead of the negative tone of this article which...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: Oregon Wine Institute Plans for the Future »
 
When Mark is involved, things are going to work out just great! We miss the...
Reader: Peter Bell
 
Article: Spanish Cooper Sells Chinese Oak »
 
I would love to find Us wineries using the Chinese oak barrels. Do you know...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: Prohibition Laws Linger 81 Years Later »
 
Trader Joe's (Union Square) and Whole Foods (Upper West Side) both have wine shops attached...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: Prohibition Laws Linger 81 Years Later »
 
Maybe the economy could use another boost by repealing the post-prohibitionary laws too. Make it...
Reader: csm noble
 
 


Directory/Buyer's Guide — Your Wine Industry Marketplace
 
 
WINERY SEARCH
 
 
Advanced Search »
SUPPLIER SEARCH
   by Product
 by Company Name or Brand
 
Browse by Category »
2015 Directory/Buyer's Guide
The Wines & Vines Directory and Buyer's Guide
 
 
EXPANDED ONLINE SEARCH INCLUDED WITH PURCHASE
 
ORDER NOW »
 
LEARN MORE »
 
 
Wines & Vines Magazine
 
 
LEARN MORE »
 
SUBSCRIBE »
 
Digital Edition Now Available!
Wines & Vines Digital Edition Now Available
 
LEARN MORE »
 
ORDER NOW »
 
 
The Wines & Vines Online Marketing System
 
The Industry Standard winery marketing application
 
FREE LIVE DEMO »
 
VIEW VIDEO »
 
 
 
 
Latest Job Listings
 Viticulturist
 West Sussex, UK
Winemaking and Production
 Winemaker & Vineyard M...
 Markham, VA
Winemaking and Production
 Back Office Manager
 New York, NY
General Administration and
 Sales Coordinator
 Paso Robles, CA
Sales and Marketing
 Retail Wine Department
 Napa, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Senior Vice President
 American Canyon, CA
General Administration and
 Administrative Assista...
 New York, NY
General Administration and
 Driver/Shipping And Re...
 Novato, CA
General Administration and
 Night Superintendent
 Ripon, CA
Winemaking and Production
 Tasting Room Sales -Fu...
 Calistoga, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 
More Job Listings >>
Follow Us On:
 
 





Home  |  About Us  |  Editors  |  Subscribe  |  Print Edition  |  Digital Edition

Advertise  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy
 
 
Copyright © 2001-2014 by Wine Communications Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
No material may be reproduced without written permission of the Publisher.
Wines&Vines does not assume any responsibility for any unsolicited manuscripts or materials.