March 4, 2014 – San Benito County could become the first county in California to ban fracking and other extreme oil extraction methods in order to protect valuable agricultural and water resources.
An initiative was filed with the county clerk last Thursday by the environmental group San Benito Rising that would put the issue to a vote on the November ballot.
“We’re sitting here on this giant deposit of Monterey Shale, so we’re trying to stop it before oil companies even get started and invest in infrastructure,” said organizer Andrew Hsia-Coron, a retired teacher.
The fracking ban was submitted by organic farmer Paul Hain, who raises pastured poultry, eggs and walnuts on his ranch in Tres Pinos; Tribal Chairperson Anne Marie Sayers; and retired Hollister teacher Margaret Morales Rebecchi. After review by the county counsel, the group will begin gathering the 1,642 signatures needed to place the initiative on the November 4th ballot.
“Water is the most important reason to ban fracking,” says Hsia-Coron. “The county is almost 100% dependent on groundwater and fracking takes copious amounts, then there is the risk of contamination. Everything we do in this county depends on water and it puts all that at risk.”
Anti-fracking sentiment runs strong in San Benito County. A group called Aromas Cares for the Environment has been working with the Board of Supervisors to strengthen regulations on oil and gas extraction, but many feel current ordinances don’t go far enough.
“Regulations are just a way of giving the industry a road map to frack. States like Pennsylvania and Texas have regulations, but that hasn’t stopped the process. It’s only made a mess. We realized we needed to ban the process entirely,” added Hsia-Coron.
San Benito Rising and the Sierra Club held a protest last September near Pinnacles National Park over plans to drill for oil using cyclic steam extraction. The group says fracking is already taking place on depleted wells in nearby Coalinga and in San Ardo, in southern Monterey County. Geologists say a 1,700 sq. mile deposit of oil-rich Monterey Shale sits under California’s Salinas Valley and Central Valley.
1. The impact and risks of high intensity petroleum operations are too great for county residents to accept.
2. Our limited water supplies should be preserved for agricultural and municipal uses.
3. San Benito County cannot afford the risk of groundwater pollution.
4. High intensity petroleum operations are inconsistent with our agricultural heritage and rural character.
5. Earthquake risks in San Benito County are already too high.
6. High intensity petroleum operations will further degrade our air quality.
7. High intensity petroleum operations will degrade our scenic vistas and rural quality of life.
8. High intensity petroleum operations could harm the county’s biological resources.
9. Permitting high intensity petroleum operations is not the way to grow a healthy economy.
10. Petroleum operations are incompatible with residential uses.
Santa Cruz County has placed a moratorium on fracking pending revision of the General Plan. The city council of Los Angeles has also approved a moratorium on fracking there, as has New York State.
A group of chefs led by Alice Waters, who are concerned about the impact fracking would have on farm land, is petitioning California Governor Jerry Brown for a statewide moratorium. You can sign their petition here.
A group called Californians Against Fracking is planning a mass protest in Sacramento on March 15, an event expected to draw thousands of people from all over the state.
San Benito Rising wants the county to focus on green energy alternatives, including wind and solar. They are also working on a project to make San Juan Bautista a model “Green City.” To get involved with this group, visit their website.