A majority of the members of the San Benito County Board of Supervisors expressed support for strengthening the county oil and gas code at the Tuesday 1/22/13 Board meeting. Board Chair, Supervisor Anthony Botelho, was passionate in his defense of the need to protect our county and our water.
Thank you to the many ACEers who attended, to those who spoke, and to those who offered support but couldn't come. ACE is particularly grateful to Supervisor Botelho for his strong vision and leadership in moving safeguards to the forefront.
About a dozen students from Stanford Law School's environmental law clinic and their professors were present, two of whom spoke on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and the WaterKeepers Alliance to support a strengthened ordinance. A representative of the Monterey Chapter of the Sierra Club also spoke.
Some county residents spoke in opposition to strengthening the ordinance, saying it would be detrimental to economic development, that it is redundant, and that the state is already regulating oil and gas.
A representative of CIPA, the California Independent Petroleum Association, argued that there is no need for a new ordinance; that among the state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) and other county departments, there is enough protection. Also objecting to the revision was the owner of Patriot Resources, an oil producer that pumps about 8500 gallons of oil a year in this county (nearly all the county oil production).
Supervisor Jerry Muenzer, who is working with Supervisor Botelho to craft the ordinance revision, spoke strongly in favor of county protections of community health and safety and thanked all the participants in the meeting for their respectful listening and discussion. Supervisors Botelho and Muenzer are especially concerned about handing our county's safety over to DOGGR because they had sent a copy of the ordinance revision to DOGGR for comment and received no response.
The lack of DOGGR response was what triggered Patriot Resources to ask the oil producers trade association (CCCOGP) to hire former DOGGR employees to draft a memorandum challenging the county's authority to regulate oil production. It is believed that the association paid $10,000 for the 1100-page report, which seemed to annoy the supervisors more than persuade them.
Supervisor Robert Rivas was forceful in his opposition to fracking in our county, and Supervisor Margie Barrios agreed with most of our concerns. Only Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz spoke in opposition to the ordinance and felt it was only an Aromas issue.
County counsel continues to refine the ordinance. Supervisors Botelho and Muenzer are anxious to wrap this up and get safeguards in place. We'll keep you updated as we know more.
The industry is claiming that the county has no authority to regulate oil production...that only the state's DOGGR has the authority. ACE has been advised that the county has the authority to regulate land use aspects of oil production...noise, smells, pollution, traffic and other issues.
Thank you to everyone who dreamed we could have an impact and who is making this happen!
Questions? We're glad to respond.
This coming Tuesday, January 22, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors meeting will include a status update on the planning department revisions to our county oil and gas well ordinance. The current draft of the modified ordinance is here (the whole meeting agenda can be found on the BOS website). County Planning staff have been working hard on these modifications, and have been quite sensitive to the concerns of residents and receptive to suggestions. The oil industry clearly also has an interest in this ordinance, and at least one oil producer in the county has been speaking with individual supervisors about it.
We need to make sure that the new ordinance reflects the desires of residents of San Benito County, and to do that, we need to make sure our preferences and concerns are known to the Supervisors. If at all possible, attend the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday - be there at 9am, as our item is first on the agenda. You do not need to speak; just your presence there will help show the Board that this issue is important to county residents. If you do want to convey a more direct message, there will be an opportunity for public comment at the meeting. If you cannot make the meeting, you can call the Supervisors and let them know how you feel about this issue.
It will be helpful to let the Board to know:
- that the community is very interested in preventing problems from occurring, rather than having to worry about who will clean them up after they occur.
- that we don't want to end up as so many other areas of the country have, with contaminated water, compromised human health, an industrialized landscape, and decreased property values.
- that we precautionary safeguards in the event of drilling, and to emphasize the importance to us of maintaining a clean water supply, clean air, our county infrastructure, and our rural quality of life.
To attend: 9am, Tuesday 2/22, 481 4th St., Hollister
To call: 831/636.4000
To email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), part of the Department of Conservation, has just released a "discussion draft" of their proposed new statewide regulations on fracking. The draft can be found here. Public meetings will be held to discuss the provisions of these regulations; we hope there will be one locally, and will keep you informed about locations and dates as they are announced. Meanwhile, the Center for Biological Diversity has already weighed in with a press release listing some of the aspects of the regulations that they find unsatisfactory or insufficient. These include:
Little regulatory protection for air, water and climate
No requirement to collect and disclose baseline data needed for effective regulation
Huge “Trade Secrets” loophole allows well operators to avoid disclosing use of dangerous fracking chemicals
No direct notification to people with homes or drinking water wells next to fracking wells
Public notification to occur on industry-linked website
In addition, notification of an impending fracking operation will have to be posted on the DOGGR website just three days before the frack job. That is the only public notice.
12/20/12 update: Since I posted this, Earthworks has also responded to the proposed regulations - see "California - now the state of ;Frack Baby Frack'?" on their EARTHblog.
- Contact your state assembly member and state senator and ask them to request that DOGGR hold one of the public hearings about the draft regulations in the Monterey Bay Area.
Aromas area California legislators can be contacted at:
State Senator Bill Monning
17th Senate District; Democrat
District includes Monterey County side of Aromas, coastal Monterey County, all of Santa Cruz County, all of San Luis Obispo County, Morgan Hill and Gilroy
State Senator Anthony Canella
12th Senate District; Republican
District includes all of San Benito County, incorporated Salinas to incorporated King City
Assembly Member Luis Alejo
30th Assembly District; Democrat
District includes all of San Benito County, Salinas to south Monterey County border, Watsonville, Morgan Hill and Gilroy
Assembly Member Mark Stone
29th Assembly District; Democrat
District includes Monterey County side of Aromas, coastal Monterey County, most of Santa Cruz County
Awareness and concern about fracking and other types of enhanced oil recovery are increasing both locally and across the state. The federal Bureau of Land Management auctioned oil leases on public lands in central California yesterday, 12/12/12; not only was the auction protested by environmental groups and other members of the public, but elected officials, including U.S. Representative Sam Farr and Monterey County Supervisors, tried to stop it from going forward on schedule.
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
"Fracking is not something that we have yet accepted as a proven technology," Farr said. "The oil lies deep and the water is shallow and in the Salinas Valley, healthy water is more important than oil. It's our economic base for agriculture."
From a local KAZU radio report:
"At his office in Monterey, County Supervisor Dave Potter isn’t looking for compromise. He’s concerned that in this agricultural rich county fracking could contaminate the water supply or do other harm. He wants state regulators to act now. “Quite frankly I’d hope they’d put a ban on it, right now. I suspect when they do look into this, they’re going to find that fracking is having a serious impact on Mother Nature,” said Potter."
Meanwhile, Boards of Supervisors in both Monterey and San Benito Counties are working with their county planning departments to add safeguards locally, to the extent that they can. Oil drilling is regulated by a complex combination of federal, state, and local laws, so this involves teasing apart the various jurisdictions, determining where protections are insufficient, and figuring out how to make appropriate modifications to the current regulations. It is encouraging that both counties are addressing the issues so seriously. This is in part because of interest in and concern about this issue among the residents of these counties, so we should all remember to continue to make our opinions known to our elected officials.
(special guest posting by Pat Lerman)
Inquiring minds have been asking, "what is going on with oil in Aromas?" A good question; here are some answers:
There is no firm evidence at this time that the Aromas area sits on an oil reserve. There are some small active wells in the hills just north of Chittenden and River Oaks. They are on the south end of Santa Clara County and are operated by Patriot Resources, owned by Steve Coombs. Patriot is a small firm that also has wells in south San Benito County. Mr. Coombs says that he employs 8 people in San Benito County.
The GraniteRock/Freedom Resources seismic study is not complete, according to GR officials. GR says it encountered unanticipated challenges in developing a 3-D image. The company that did the study is still working on producing a useful image, according to GR. The study will not be publicly released once it is completed, but ACE is encouraging GR to keep the Aromas community in the loop.
San Benito County ordinance revision. Supervisor Anthony Botelho has made it his mission to modernize the oil and gas ordinance. The GR/Freedom Resources seismic study was a wake up call for Aromans to the possibility of oil in our area and to the limited scope of the San Benito oil and gas code. ACE representatives have met with the supervisors' task force to help craft an ordinance that protects our air, water, infrastructure and quality of life. There undoubtedly will be pushback from the petroleum industry which fears that a good San Benito ordinance will become a model for other California counties.
Statewide efforts. The California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has been under pressure to introduce regulations for fracking. An initial draft should be forthcoming in the next couple of months. ACE reps are now part of a statewide network that is working for serious regulation of fracking. The organizations in the network include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Clean Water Action, the Center for Biological Diversity, a Culver City organization, the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, Earthworks and others.
The Big Picture. The oil industry is convinced that California will be the Next Big Thing for oil extraction. While fracking is a capital-intensive method of extraction, the big players see it as a way to extract large amounts of oil quickly. Most politicians won't take a stand against fracking because they think that the US must become "energy independent." The truth is that much of the natural oil and gas will be exported, not kept for domestic use.
The federal government is hastily selling oil leases on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is holding an auction on 12/12/12 of leases in south San Benito, south Monterey, and Fresno Counties. Environmental groups have filed suit.
The drive for renewable energy has been pushed to the side and environmental organizations are being forced into defensive actions to stop the health and safety dangers of fracking and other "enhanced" extraction methods.
Each day more evidence comes forward that "scientific studies" that show that fracking is safe were conducted by people working for the oil industry. There is a growing body of evidence that fracking is a health and safety hazard of serious dimension.
What you can do.
*Head to Sacramento at 9 am on 12/12 for a protest against the BLM auction at the Bureau of Land Management, California State Office, 2800 Cottage Way, Sacramento, CA 95825
*Contact your state legislators to ask them to keep pressure on DOGGR to meaningfully regulate the oil industry and fracking and to impose a moratorium on fracking until DOGGR acts.
* Stay tuned for the San Benito County Board of Supervisors meeting when the oil and gas ordinance revision will be considered.
It's hard to keep up with all the new information that is being published about oil and natural gas drilling and their associated risks. Here are just two of them:
In a new study summarized here and here (the formal paper has not yet been published), researchers monitoring the air a mile from natural gas wells in Colorado found several hazardous chemicals present at levels high enough to cause concern. Chemical levels were elevated when the wells were undergoing traditional drilling; fracking neither lowered nor increased the concentrations of these chemicals. While they did not definitively prove that oil drilling was responsible, the findings point the need for more research and monitoring; meanwhile, it seems best to push for very conservative sitings of new wells, in terms of distance from communities and rural homes.
Meanwhile, two new studies (a summary and links to the articles are here) have come out that link earthquakes to fracking-related activities. These aren't just micro-quakes, but larger ones (magnitudes 5.3, 5.7), including some that have caused injuries and property damage.
So far with the "Fracking News and Info" page of this website I have been adding links to articles and information as I find them. I try to make sure that what I add is not too repetitive, in that the content is not already well covered in a different article, and that it is written in a non-inflammatory way. I try to let people be aware of potential biases in reporting, by having different sections depending on the source of the article - for example, information from the oil industry is likely to have a certain angle to it, so I have a separate section for those sources. Some people think that environmental groups might have their own, different, spin, so I have a section for them, too.
However, as our whole country becomes ever more divided in terms of what it knows as "truth", it becomes harder for me to decide on appropriate categories. In addition, I feel like there are enough links to information on this website that additional ones may get lost. For these reasons, for the time being at least, I am going to just use this page to post some of the new reports that I come across.
This week, there is a new article in the Nation, Fracking our Food Supply. It caught my eye because it helps make the case for why it is in their interest for urban people to care about oil and natural gas drilling techniques that are used in areas far removed from where they live. Often, for city-dwellers, oil drilling is regarded as something that happens elsewhere and has no impact on them. The angle of this Nation article is that the effects can spill over from remote rural areas to people in cities, via the food supply, and become in essence a food safety issue. They mention that there has been only one peer-reviewed study to date that shows a negative effect of fracking on animal health, but they also mention other studies that indicate impacts on animals. In general, it seems that not much research has been done on low-level impacts of fracking on our food supply - but that consumers in the northeast, at least, are starting to get concerned.
Anyway, read the article. It's got lots of good graphics, too.
(Note: We tend to talk about "fracking," since that is the term that is familiar to most people. In actuality, there are several different types of enhanced oil recovery, all of which have potential risks associated with them.)
Today there was an article in the L.A. Times that dovetails nicely with this Nation article. Kern County Farmers Take on Oil Industry, California discusses agricultural issues that have resulted from oil drilling operations in Kern County; some of the history that has brought the situation to the current point; and what some farmers are attempting to do to try to protect their agricultural land.
Last summer, when we were all just beginning to figure out what the situation was here, with regard to oil drilling, the amazing Bill Hunter wrote a song inspired by our situation. This song was performed last Saturday at the Aromas Grange, at the Aromas Bands Together event, a fundraiser for Adopt-a-Family here in town.
Fortunately, the performance was recorded. The band is Carr Creek Crossing, with guest Lily Elder on fiddle (they sounded absolutely terrific live; the recording is just *okay*.)
For the lyrics, go to the video on the YouTube site.
1-9 of 9