UCSB Seed Grant for Exploratory Research on Water and Oil in Northern Santa Barbara County

Water and oil, cornerstones of the state’s economy, are becoming increasingly scarce across California. The effects of this relative scarcity are particularly noticeable in central regions and in parts of Santa Barbara County where industrial agriculture and oil extraction have long co-existed, where ongoing histories of mineral and water rights are complex and contested, and where large numbers of once-abandoned oil wells are being redeveloped using water-intensive oil extraction techniques. To address such scarcity effects and their implications, policy-makers, communities, corporations, and scientists have developed new modes of knowing, governing, and engaging with the underground. For example, the state’s first legislative plan for sustainably managing groundwater resources (SGMA) was introduced in 2014, and affected groups and communities are currently forming management agencies and plans now required by law by 2020. Meanwhile, recent permit applications for oil well redevelopment have met with widespread resistance. Regional social science research to date has focused primarily on conflicts between different commercial interests, environmental concerns, water users, and management systems, but without specifically studying developments in how the underground is imagined and governed – the focus of our proposed research.