Oil on Acid

An oilfield on ranchland near San Ardo.

There is no hydraulic fracturing, known as "fracking," happening in Monterey County. 

That's a fact that cuts both ways as a battle shapes up between a broad coalition of anti-fracking activists and an oil industry group. Activists say a county ban on fracking is essential to keep Monterey County pristine; industry players argue, why bother with a ban if it's not even happening? 

A new group, Protect Monterey County, held its first public event Wednesday evening at Hartnell College to rally support for a 2016 ballot initiative that would ban fracking in Monterey County

While the language of the ballot measure has not yet been finalized, PMC co-founder Paula Getzelman assured some 75 attendees that the measure will not impact existing oil operations in South County. 

"It will allow current, ongoing oil operations to continue," she said. "It bans new, extreme fracking and acidizing operations, and it will ban storage of contaminated fracking water in Monterey County.

"At this point there is no active fracking [in Monterey County] and there are no applications. We want to keep it that way."

April 30, the County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 against a temporary moratorium on fracking. Protect Monterey County started strategizing after that about a ballot initiative. “This was really the only option left,” Getzleman told the Weekly

They are modeling their effort on neighboring San Benito County's Measure J, a fracking ban that voters overwhelmingly approved last year.

The oil industry is still contemplating ways to challenge that initiative, and already organizing against the Monterey County measure, through Californians for Energy Independence.

A local sub-group, Monterey County for Energy Independence, has been meeting with elected officials, candidates and members of local chambers of commerce. They've led tours of oilfields in San Ardo for local officials, aiming to show off safe practices, and the jobs they say a ballot measure would jeopardize.  

Consultant Maureen Wruck, who attended last night's meeting on behalf of Monterey County for Energy Independence, says bans and restrictions discourage business investment and make business owners uneasy about what the future might hold.   

"Once they cut off the toes, they want to go for the foot," she says.   

Speakers Wednesday night included Juan Flores of the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment in Kern County. He spoke about re-framing their argument from one about the environment alone to one about people. 

He self-identifies as a tree-hugger, he said, but "this fight is not about that anymore. This fight is about human lives. This fight is about your kids, my kids, your grandkids." 

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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