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Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Monterey County Board of Supervisors Review Fracking Regulations

September 25, 2014

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors began reviewing state hydraulic fracturing regulations at their September 23 Board Workshop. The Supervisors, County Staff, and about 100 members of the public heard a presentation by the California Department of Conservation's sub-agency the Department of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources or DOGGR.

The agency's presentation described, in brief, the structure of a deep hydraulic fracturing well and horizontal bores. They showed maps estimating the extent of the Monterey Shale formation in California, and described the tortured logic of the regulatory process set off by the adoption of CA Senate Bill 4 (SB4, from the 2013 state legislative session). With one slide DOGGR attempted to address how Monterey County's landscape could be changed by a new oil "play" or boom. The photo came from North Dakota where the massive Bakken Shale oil and gas play is taking place in an agricultural landscape. The Bakken Shale play can be seen from space. At night North Dakota looks like it has a massive new city. This is because so much natural gas is being flared off. Flaring is a cheap disposal method for getting rid of gas when there is no infrastructure to capture and ship it. Oil is the primary driver of the Bakken Shale play. This shocking waste of fossil fuels is one of the common side effects of petroleum and gas booms.

What the DOGGR presentation did not address is how high pressure fracking, acid matrix stimulation, and horizontal drilling can fail and lead to the pollution of ground water, toxic surface spills and air pollution. These and other problems are wide spread across the more than 20 states where fracking technology has produced a US oil and gas boom. The US is now, once again, the planet's largest producer of oil and natural gas. A strange irony as global warming has become a proven fact at the same point in history.

After the DOGGR presentation, the Board of Supervisors took testimony from about 40 members of the public and at the close of the workshop DOGGR representatives answered a few questions.

The public testimony revealed alarming public misconceptions about what a new oil drilling boom in the county could look like. Many people think that such a boom would be limited to existing oil fields such as the San Ardo field in South County. This is not true. Oil drilling could take place anywhere, including within city limits, near homes and in the middle of agricultural fields. No one knows yet. Currently there are no limits as to where new fracking oil wells might be attempted. DOGGR rules do not clearly address the issue of distances between oil drilling wells and drinking water wells.

Chapter member Kevin Collins spoke in support of a moratorium and explained some details of how Monterey County could amend its zoning code to address oil drilling and a moratorium. Drilling is currently an allowed use even in high-density residential zone districts in Monterey County. A remarkable oversight and an issue that has been before the Board for months and remains unresolved. The point of a county moratorium is to stop fracking from occurring until it is clear what the State of CA adopts as new regulations, tentatively expected by the end of 2015. In a bizarre reversal of administrative process, DOGGR explained that their regulatory update for Fracking is slated to occur before the completion of an EIR (Environmental Impact Report-CEQA) mandated by SB4. Yes, this is very complicated. SB4 is a mess and was vigorously opposed by the Sierra Club.

Sierra Club and over 200 environmental organizations, health professionals, labor, farmers and other groups have signed on to letters in favor of banning fracking to protect public health and the environment while more research into the impacts are completed. See the Chapter's letter written by the Chapter Energy Co-chairs Kevin Collins and Rich Fox to the Board of Supervisors asking for a moratorium until more is known about the hazards of fracking. Sierra Club Chapters in Colorado, Pennsylvania and several other states are confronting major environmental and public health problems caused by the new fracking technologies. (SEE LETTER)

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