Nature Friendly: Environmentalist fights fracking in county
by Carol Carson
Jan 30, 2014 | 1987 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“Up and down, Up and down, making lots of money.” That was the refrain my grandparents taught us as children as we passed by oil wells and derricks close to their farm house in the West Texas desert. The irony was that they did not get the money, though, because the family did not own the mineral rights.

That fate and worse could await the residents of Monterey County if its Board of Supervisors does not adopt a fracking moratorium soon. Fracking blasts vast amounts of water, while California suffers from a devastating drought, and toxic chemicals deep underground in the hope of extracting oil and gas from Monterey Shale.

The chemicals include benzene, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined causes cancer in humans, toluene, and hydrofluoric acid. The public disclosure necessary to identify the chemicals in use has been a major political dispute in every region where fracking occurs.

The California state agency with the responsibility to address this new oil drilling technology, the Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, was still allowing oil drilling waste to be disposed into open earthen pits until a few months ago.

Because Gov. Jerry Brown has been asleep at the wheel in setting state-wide regulations on fracking, it falls on each county to set a moratorium to protect residents’ health, agriculture, and tourism. Last fall Santa Cruz County Supervisor John Leopold successfully spearheaded a moratorium, backed by 5th District Supervisor Bruce McPherson, and will seek a permanent amendment to the county's general plan.

“I think we’re the only county who has one,” said Lompico resident Kevin Collins, one of the environmentalists who spoke up for the new regulations in chamber meetings. Across California, however, concerned citizens are starting campaigns to halt fracking in their counties.

In September, Collins represented the Sierra Club’s Ventana Chapter, which includes Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, at a national conference in San Francisco as a member of the Council of Club Leaders. The attendees discussed a national energy policy, including fracking, which will be presented to the club’s board of directors.

Along with the Sierra Clubs’ Ventana Chapter, the national environmental organization, the Center for Biodiversity, is working to develop regulations for Monterey County.

According to the center, “Across the country, more than 1,000 documented cases of water contamination have been associated with fracking and drilling, which pollutes our air with toxic chemicals and emits methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. It also opens up new areas to fossil fuel development at a time when we need to transition rapidly to a clean and renewable energy future.”

“Governor Brown should follow the lead of New York, New Jersey and Vermont and prohibit fracking to protect our wildlife, our natural resources, our health and our climate.”

“Monterey is relying on the state of California which I think is a mistake because the state’s regulations are very weak,” says Collins. “The County’s zoning code allows drilling in high-density residential zoning districts. Next to your home there could be big industrial fracking well. We have to persuade the supervisors to address this issue. The simplest and most effective way is to issue a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the county.”

Collins believes that fracking is already going on. If you travel down Highway 101, you can see old, played-out pump jacks going up and down in clusters along the Salinas River.

“You can frack an existing oil well to stimulate production by bringing in high pressure pumps and chemicals and redrilling down the existing well bore and produce a new well,” says Collins. “The oil industry has already done seismic surveying in Aromas which caused activists there to become concerned about it, and they persuaded the San Benito County Board of Supervisors to adopt some regulations to control fracking, particularly the distance between fracking and residents.”

As oil companies using sophisticated equipment look for oil, another problem arises for landowners.

“In many cases the landowners don’t own the subsurface mineral rights, which may belong to another entity, which they’re unaware of,” says Collins. “It’s a county by county policy. When a deed was recorded, the person who originally sells the parcel can hold back drilling rights.”

“No one knows what fracking in Monterey shale is really going to look like until it fires up,” he says.

“Up and down, up and down, making lots of money.”

But for whom and at what costs?

- Carol Carson, M.Ed., naturalist, writer, and educator, can be contacted at carson@carolcarson.com.

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