Aromas residents prepare for prospecting; Graniterock lawyer works for oil company.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Watsonville-based mining giant Graniterock is working to assure Aromas residents that seismic testing by an oil-exploration company won’t lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
“We are not in the oil business,” Graniterock President and CEO Thomas Squeri wrote in a July 30 open letter.
But Graniterock’s singular interest in rocks doesn’t mean other companies aren’t eyeing the region: “We do know there is oil in the ground in the Aromas area,” Squeri wrote.
The company claims it’s only interested in Freedom’s research for data on granite deposits in the Wilson Quarry.
But Graniterock’s general counsel, Kevin Jeffery, is also operations officer for oil exploration company Freedom Resources. The connection raises questions about how closely the companies’ interests are linked.
Freedom was founded around 2010, Jeffery says, but he won’t name its executives “for competitive reasons.” He says he’s been Freedom’s operations officer since June, plus some earlier planning.
Former Graniterock CEO Bruce Woolpert died in a drowning accident on June 24, and Squeri was named the new CEO in late July.
As Freedom completed seismic testing in Aromas last month, citizens launched a grassroots group, Aromas Cares for our Environment, to educate themselves on what a prospective oil boom could mean.
The unincorporated region spans three counties – Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz – meaning there’s no single county ordinance or elected official to respond to concerns. “The assumption about Aromas sometimes is that it’s just a backwater, and in fact it’s not,” ACE spokeswoman Pat Lerman says.
She hopes Graniterock pushes for stricter county rules on oil extraction.
Squeri says Graniterock did allow Freedom’s contractors onto its property for research, but didn’t invite them out there. “I assume that they’re looking for oil,” he says, “but we asked [Freedom] to share any information from that study with us because it is useful in understanding the extent of our granite deposit.”
Jeffery, however, says Graniterock actively reached out to companies with oil and gas expertise because they had the best seismic technology: “Graniterock’s intention was to understand the scope of its granite deposit and the complex geology that lies beneath and around it.”
He stresses that Graniterock maintains operational control over the seismic testing. “My role at Freedom Resources is the operational way that we at Graniterock maintain that control,” he says.
“We are not going to engage in any fracking activity, and we are not going to allow any fracking activity.”