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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Controversial fracking method approved for oil drilling near Salinas River

Local groups appeal

April 2011

Venoco, an oil company based in Denver, Colorado, received approval last September from the Monterey County Zoning Administrator to drill three exploratory oil and natural gas wells west of Highway 101 in south Monterey County. The full application asks for nine test wells at three proposed sites. Each site will contain up to three exploratory oil and gas wells on a single pad and the project will require a total of 30,010 cubic yards of grading.

Led by the Ventana Conservation and Land Trust and Halt Oil Drilling Now, a group of county residents filed an appeal in October to halt the testing. The oil company plans to use a controversial technique known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking to extract the oil. Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. The chemicals used may include barium, strontium, benzene, glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. There are studies linking fracking to water contamination and air pollution. The test wells would be near the Salinas River and farmland.

On March 30, the Monterey Planning Commission unanimously granted a second continuance of the appeal, this time until October 26. The delay was supported by Venoco and the appellants.

The Chapter is reviewing this project as well as the high fees charged by the County to appeal Planning Commission decisions. While fees are not consistent in counties throughout California, most if not all, are lower than the Monterey County cost of $5000 The cost in San Francisco County is $500, Santa Cruz, $1560, Los Angeles, $689. Several other counties charge $1000. Monterey County’s extremely high appeal fees discourage homeowners, economic justice groups, environmentalists, and other public benefit entities from opposing projects they believe are not good for the community.

In this case the Planning Commission agreed to waive the appellants’ $5,000 fee although it was stipulated that this applied only to the current case and was not a precedent.

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