Oil and Climate Change:

The best climate science tells us that to keep global average temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius (agreed upon as a ‘safe’ limit), we have 12 years to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.

We’re living at a time where we need to start making some choices – serious ones, yet not hard ones if we think about the future we want to live in. We all know that we need to transition away from fossil fuels and move our economy to a 100% renewable, and just, economy. And we need to do this quickly. This need has been recently felt sorely by our community.

The wildfire that devastated our Santa Barbara community late last year was driven by unseasonably hot temperatures, dry fuel, and strong winds. What followed was flooding caused by extreme rainfall, where a half an inch of rain fell in just 5 minutes. This is not normal – this is climate change. But this will be the new normal, and we can expect to see more of these events in the future. Communities around the world already are facing climate impacts – from rising seas to wildfires to crop-killing droughts to hurricanes – and the people with the least responsibility for climate change, those who tend to be most marginalized already by our political and economic systems, are generally hit worst by these impacts. As communities around the world work to become more resilient, the last thing they need – the last thing they deserve – is the promise of even more abnormal and devastating changes to our climate. Our choices today are what will determine that future. Today, we have some important long-term math to do.

This needs to be the end of the fossil fuel era, and the beginning of the renewable era.

If we want to become truly fossil free, it’s about reducing production as well as consumption. While we push for increased energy efficiency, the implementation of renewable energy, and transportation alternatives, Santa Barbara County remains as one of the top oil-producing counties in California. It is therefore quite simple math that we cannot allow for any new oil exploration and development.


Oil Production in Santa Barbara County:

While wearing the title of ‘climate champion’ like a badge of honor, California is the 3rd largest producer of oil in the United States. Within California, Santa Barbara is one of the highest oil-producing counties – just behind counties like Kern and Los Angeles.

Oil production is split into on- and off-shore. Offshore production in state waters ended with the shutdown of Platform Holly in 2015 and the ongoing decommissioning process (the rest of the offshore production occurs in federal waters, or waters more than 3 miles from shore). Onshore oil drilling primarily occurs in North County, although pipelines, processing plants, storage facilities, and pump stations are found throughout the county, especially near the shoreline.

Currently, the county produces around 7000 barrels per day – this oil is not fast-flowing “sweet crude” either; oil here is both thick and high in potential emissions. California oil has a high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions potential, making it some of the dirtiest reserves, much like the Canadian tar sands – an oil-deposit that has been labelled as “game over” for the planet. For AERA’s proposed projects, the crude oil is thick enough that that lighter crude would need be trucked in from Bakersfield, blended onsite, and then sent back to Bakersfield for refining. The process would take about 30,000 total truck miles per day, aggravating air pollution and traffic and contributing to climate change. 

Finally, oil has a tumultuous history in the county. Since 2010 3,300 incidents of crude oil and liquefied gas leaks or ruptures have occurred in US. These incidents have killed 80 people, and injured more than 389.


Map of Oil & Gas Production, Extraction, and Processing sites – via the California Air Resources Board (CARB)


To keep an eye on county planning documents, you can search for ones specific to extraction using the source code:



Map of extraction in county: