Many folks from Kern County came to a public meeting at Santa Maria's government center last month. Most were on company time and the trip was arranged by Aera Energy’s public relations department. The oil firm, owned by ExxonMobil/Shell, is one of three that seeks permission to massively expand operations here.

Kern County adults should have full opportunities for steady work, good schools for their kids, sufficient clean water for their homes and their agricultural sector, and healthy air.

Santa Barbara County has a vibrant agricultural economy, but also a vital tourism sector, and many more jobs in clean, renewable energy than in fossil fuels. In addition, we enjoy the unspoiled views of our horse, cow and oak-dotted meadows, of our rolling hills and our forested mountains.

Since peaking in 1987, levels of oil production in Kern County have dropped significantly. These companies see opportunities here and, at whatever cost to us, want to expand their operations in our county. Between Santa Maria and Los Alamos, they have big plans for Cat Canyon, dreams of thousands of oil wells in our forest lands and in large sections of the coastal waters off our beaches.

If they have their way, Cat Canyon would be lined with hundreds of new wells and with percolation ponds filled with poisonous liquid waste. This sensitive area could come to resemble the stained, pump-jack-punctured landscape of the city of Taft in Kern County. Oil truck runs on our roads would dangerously increase in frequency. As in Kern County, we could expect deteriorated air quality with more severe asthma and epileptic attacks, especially among children.

In addition to the loss of production of thousands of acres of farmland in Kern County due to oil wastewater contamination, water supply issues themselves have been severely aggravated by oil operations. The USGS estimates the lifecycle requirements of extracting, transporting and refining a single barrel of oil, uses 1,850 gallons of water. Can we afford this loss of our water?

Allowing oil operations to become a larger part of our economy would subject us to the same severe cyclic ups and downs as Kern County endures. Along with large job lay-offs, Kern recently experienced a decline of $40 million in taxes from this industry. This boom-and-bust sector exacerbates local government’s dire financial condition. It results in reduced school budgets and fewer funds for all types of sorely needed social services.

We wish a good future for all the people of Kern County. But, especially in this 50th anniversary year of the historic oil calamity off Santa Barbara's coast, we don’t need more of those problems and risks now.

Seth Steiner is a resident of Los Alamos.

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