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San Benito Supervisors to Consider Enacting “Protect Our Water” Initiative
On Tuesday, May 6, the future of fracking and extreme extraction in the ag-heavy county of San Benito will temporarily be in the hands of its elected leaders. Since the “Protect Our Water” Initiative qualified for the ballot earlier this week, county supervisors must consider the grassroots anti-fracking measure at their meeting, on the agenda for 1:30 pm. The public is urged to attend.
The supervisors can do one of three things: 1) Adopt the initiative and make it law, which can only be reversed by a vote of the people; 2) Order all affected departments to complete fiscal impact reports within 30 days; and 3) Order the initiative be put on the November ballot. The second option is the most likely scenario.
Since the San Benito County Board of Supervisors revised their “Gas & Oil Ordinance” last summer, oil companies have requested permits for several new wells. This ordinance gives drillers bargain-basement prices to drill at will in a bucolic county where good ground water is scarce for local ranches, farms and vineyards.
The “Protect Our Water and Health: Ban Fracking” Initiative was organized by a local group of county residents called San Benito Rising. This volunteer group launched this initiative because they believe that the people in their county should have a voice in whether to allow heavy industrial activities like oil and gas drilling to endanger their water supply.
“Now the ball is in the supervisors’ hands,” said Andy Hsia-Coron, one of the spokespersons for San Benito Rising. “They can act courageously and vote for the initiative or succumb to the intimidating tactics of the oil and gas industry.”
Recently, attorneys representing the state gas and oil industry sent a threatening letter to the supervisors warning them against the anti-fracking initiative, promising to thwart the will of the people in the courts. Historically, local officials in fiscally challenged jurisdictions are often cowed by threats of legal actions from large corporations.
Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger, the attorneys representing San Benito Rising, dispute the legal reasoning of the industry letter and believe the initiative is both lawful and defensible.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a technique used by oil and gas companies to break open hard rock in order to access deeply-buried petroleum deposits. The process generates massive amounts of “produced” wastewater that contains known carcinogens including benzene, toluene, naphthalene and acrylamide. Other high intensity petroleum extraction methods like cyclic steam injection also generate huge amounts of wastewater, which can contain heavy metals and radioactive substances. This wastewater is injected underground or stored in evaporation ponds, which can leak.
If the measure passes, San Benito will be one of California’s first counties to ban high intensity petroleum operations (fracking, cyclic steam injection, acid matrix stimulation and acid fracking) in a “frontline county,” where drillers have already started to tap into the oil and gas hidden in the depths of the Monterey Shale and other formations.
San Benito Rising