Residents Weigh In on the Local Economics of Oil
February 11, 2011
A Feb. 5 community meeting in Lockwood to discuss proposed exploratory oil wells near Highway 101 and Jolon Road, as well as an upcoming lease sale for 2,445 subsurface acres of BLM land, drew a crowd of about 60 residents. They came not only to learn from elected and appointed county officials, industry reps, environmental activists, and a BLM manager, but also to add to tell District 3 Supervisor Simon Salinas and their neighbors where they stand.
After a litany of public comments attacking the oil industry for endangering public health, several long time residents spoke out on behalf of contracts they say allow their families to afford to keep ranching.
A 41-year-old San Ardo rancher said his family has peacefully coexisted with the oil industry on their land since the 1950s, and "They're just as good neighbors as anyone else."
Several San Ardo residents said opposition to new exploration was a classic case of NIMBY--not in my backyard. "We need oil. It's not fair for us to say go drill in somewhere else," said a lifelong resident of Bradley. And arguing drinking water contamination fears are unfounded, "I've drunk the water all my life," she added. "And I'm 79."
Taking note of the potential economic benefit for landowners, Planning Commissioner Jay Brown said, "Just like the Williamson Act," oil and gas can help ranchers keep their land. The Williamson Act, a long-time buffer designed to keep agricultural land competitive with development interests, is one of many programs facing major cutbacks as Gov. Jerry Brown wields the budget axe. Another local rancher, Mary Orradte, concurs and says, "I look at it as a buffer against development."
None of the ten landowners whose property rests on top of BLM's mineral estate were present, but Rick Cooper, the BLM field manager whose management area includes Monterey County, offered up handouts on split estates, an arrangement under which BLM owns mineral rights below a private landowner's property. A lessee has the right to occupy as much surface area as reasonably necessary to access BLM's property, which "sometimes can be a little difficult," said Cooper, particularly when landowners are unaware they live on a split estate, although such information is readily accessible.
Steve Craig, a meeting organizer and active member of Halt Oil Drilling Now (HOLD), recommended everyone review their deeds. "It might put you at ease, or it make make you very uncomfortable," he said.