San Benito County Fracking Ban Initiative, Measure J (November 2014)

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A San Benito County Fracking Ban Initiative ballot question is on the November 4, 2014 election ballot for voters in San Benito County, California.

If approved, this measure would prohibit hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and related gas and oil extraction activities. The measure would also prohibit other "high-intensity petroleum operations," including acid well stimulation and cyclic steam injection. It would also prohibit any new gas or oil drilling activity - even conventional, low-intensity activity - in areas of the county zoned for residential or rural land use.[1][2]

This initiative was started by the group called San Benito Rising, which needed to collect 1,642 valid signatures to get its initiative on the ballot. On April 22, 2014, San Benito Rising turned in over 4,000 signatures to the county elections office for certification. On May 6, 2014, the city council voted to put the proposed measure on the November ballot.[1][3]

In June of 2014 San Benito Rising was joined by a number of community endorsers to form the new Coalition to Protect San Benito to campaign in favor of the initiative. Andrew Hsia-Coron, an organizer with the Coalition to Protect San Benito, said, “We’re sitting here on this giant deposit of Monterey Shale, so we’re trying to stop it before oil companies even get started and invest in infrastructure.”[4][5]

Text of measure

The ballot title and summary was changed to speak more positively of the measure by the county supervisors at the behest of the initiative proponents, members of the Coalition to Protect San Benito. The board of supervisors also agreed to put the entire text of the initiative on the ballot as requested. The final ballot language that will be seen on the ballot is displayed below, as well as a link to the full text of the initiative.[6]

Ballot title

The following official and final ballot title was prepared by the county counsel according to recommendations made by the Coalition to Protect San Benito:[2]

Initiative to Ban Well Stimulation Treatments and Enhanced Recovery (such as Fracking and Steam Injection) throughout all Unincorporated Areas of San Benito County and to Ban All Petroleum Operations in Residential General Plan Designations in Unincorporated San Benito County and Make Related Zoning Changes[7]

Ballot summary

The following official and final ballot summary was prepared by the county counsel according to recommendations made by the Coalition to Protect San Benito:[2]

The proposed initiative would adopt new General Plan policies to prohibit:

(a) the use of any land within the County's unincorporated area for "High-Intensity Petroleum Operations," as defined by the initiative to include well stimulation treatments (such as hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, and acid well stimulation treatments) and enhanced recovery wells (such as cyclic steam injection), and

(b) the use of land with a residential General Plan land use designation - i.e., lands designated Rural, Rural Transitional, Rural Residential, Rural/Urban, and Sphere of Influence Rural/Urban - within the County's unincorporated area for any Petroleum Operations.

"Petroleum Operations" includes all activities in connection with the exploration, drilling for, and the production of petroleum, gas and other hydrocarbons.

The initiative would establish a one-year amortization period for any existing High-Intensity Petroleum Operation(s) land use that has obtained a vested right under state law, as determined by the Planning Commission. The initiative provides a process by which well owners and operators may seek a determination from the Planning Commission to allow vested "High-Intensity Petroleum Operations" land uses to continue by an extension of the amortization period up to a maximum of three years. The initiative would not apply to any "Low-Intensity Petroleum Operation," as defined, that has obtained a vested right under state law by the time the measure becomes effective.

The measure would also add new section to the Zoning Title (Title 25) and the Oil and Gas Well Chapter (Chapter 19.21 of the San Benito County Code to implement the new General Plan policies. Section 25.29.161 would prohibit any development or construction or use of facilities or equipment for "High Intensity Petroleum Operations." Section 25.29.162 would prohibit the development, construction, or use of any facilities or equipment for Petroleum Operations in Rural and Residential Zoning Districts, e.g. Rural (R), Rural Transitional (RT), Rural Residential (RR), Single-Family Residential (R1) and Residential Multiple (RM), except to the extent that "Low-Intensity Petroleum Operations" had already obtained a vested right.

General Plan policies and County Code provisions adopted through the initiative could not be amended or repealed except by a vote of County voters. The San Benito County Board of Supervisors may grant exceptions to application of the Initiative if the Board finds that the application would constitute a unconstitutional taking of property and the exception would be such to allow land uses only to the minimum extent necessary to avoid a unconstitutional taking.

The Initiative provides that the Board of Supervisors shall take all steps reasonably necessary to enforce the Initiative and defend it against any challenge.

If another measure appears on the same ballot and conflicts with any portion of the Initiative, then the measure receiving the most votes shall prevail.[7]


San Benito Rising, "San Benito Supervisors Meeting about ballot language," July 8, 2014, accessed July 14, 2014

Full text

The full text of the initiative, which will be included on the ballot, is available here.

Ballot language changes

The original ballot title and summary prepared by the county counsel did not use the phrase "hydraulic fracturing" or "fracking," using instead the more technical "high-intensity petroleum operations," and did not specify that other low-intensity or more conventional drilling techniques would not be banned by the measure. Moreover, the county had originally decided not to place the full text of the initiative measure on the ballot. Coalition to Protect San Benito representatives pled their case to the county board of supervisors during its July 8, 2014 meeting. The supervisors were receptive to the speakers, who said that the ballot language was not designed to give voters the best information since it lacked the common name of the process in question, did not inform voters that certain kinds of drilling would still be allowed in non-residential areas and did not include the full text of the initiative, denying voters a chance to fully read the law they were being asked to vote on. The board voted four against one to change the ballot language to the version displayed above and include the full text of the initiative measure on the ballot. Supervisor Margie Barrios, an opponent of the initiative, was the sole dissenter.[8]

Support

Supporters

  • A group called the Coalition to Protect San Benito is behind this initiative.[5]
  • The county's branch of the Sierra Club is also supporting the measure.[4]

Arguments in favor

Andrew Hsia-Coron of the Coalition to Protect San Benito said, “Regulations are just a way of giving the industry a road map to frack. States like Pennsylvania and Texas have regulations, but that hasn’t stopped the process. It’s only made a mess. We realized we needed to ban the process entirely."

The petition lists the following reasons to support a ban on hydraulic fracturing and other extreme oil and gas industry activities:[4]

  • The impact and risks of high intensity petroleum operations are too great for county residents to accept.
  • Our limited water supplies should be preserved for agricultural and municipal uses.
  • San Benito County cannot afford the risk of groundwater pollution.
  • High intensity petroleum operations are inconsistent with our agricultural heritage and rural character.
  • Earthquake risks in San Benito County are already too high.
  • High intensity petroleum operations will further degrade our air quality.
  • High intensity petroleum operations will degrade our scenic vistas and rural quality of life.
  • High intensity petroleum operations could harm the county’s biological resources.
  • Permitting high intensity petroleum operations is not the way to grow a healthy economy.
  • Petroleum operations are incompatible with residential uses.

Andrew Hsia-Coron, a founder of the Coalition to Protect San Benito, said, "People are thinking about the future of water in their county and where their future is going. They're not interested in an industrial zone."[9]

Hsia-Coron also said, "I was out at farms and ballparks and the Post Office, just walking the streets and talking to folks. The folks that I talked to thought that fracking and other advanced oil extraction techniques had no place in this county."[9]

Opposition

Opponents

Graig Moyer, an attorney for the California Independent Petroleum Association, said that the initiative would inevitably be challenged in court if it is approved.[9]

Arguments against

Opponents of fracking bans, especially local ones, claim that the process is relatively safe and well regulated and that prohibiting it will cause economic depression and job loss. They also argue that the proper jurisdiction for such regulation is on the state level, not through local initiative.[9]

Craig Moyer, a lawyer for the California Independent Petroleum Association, wrote, "A local regulation that attempts to impose a moratorium on or severely limit the use of hydraulic fracturing or other forms of well stimulation, is preempted by state law and unenforceable, and most certainly would be challenged on such basis."[9]

Armen Nahabedian, president and CEO of Citadel Exploration, defended the oil and gas industry, arguing that businesses in the industry make it a priority to improve extraction technology to minimize environmental impacts. Nahabedian said, "There's never been an instance of water contamination, and $4.1 billion in agriculture gets water from drainage that runs off the San Ardo Oil Field. To say that agriculture and the oil and gas industry can't exist together is just a farce."[9]

Background

See also: Fracking in California
Map of oil and gas wells in Benito County, CA

The process of fracking is under heavy scrutiny in California. The 2014 California Democratic Party Platform called for an immediate moratorium on fracking, a position not supported by California's Democratic Governor Jerry Brown. Fracking has been occurring in California for more than 30 years.[10][11][12]

Native Americans are the first recorded group to have collected oil in California. The first oil company began mining and distilling oil in 1856, and, in 1950, California produced 331 million barrels of oil. Several large natural gas fields were found throughout the 1970s and 1980s.[13] The Monterey Shale formation in California is expected to hold 15.4 billion barrels of oil, or 65 percent of the technically recoverable shale oil in the lower 48 states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.[14][15]

To the right is a map of all the oil and gas wells in Santa Benito County as of May 8, 2014. A black star denotes an area of oil and gas well activity.[16] There are three pockets of oil and gas activity across southern Santa Benito County.

The Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) oversees oil and gas development in California. Water resources are regulated by the Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCB) and the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).[10] According to the DOGGR, most of the oil and gas production in California is happening using vertical wells that are drilled into traditional oil and natural gas reservoirs. The DOGGR regulates well casings, cements and the other aspects of protecting underground and surface water resources. Under current law the DOGGR does not need to be notified when a well is fractured.[17] In 2013 the California State Legislature passed Senate Bill 4, regulating well stimulation, which includes fracking and other activities. Senate Bill 4 requires interim well regulations that are now in effect, a separate set of regulations that go into effect in 2015, the adoption of environmental impact reports in 2015 and well stimulation permits. These permits are publicly available on the DOGGR's website.[18]


Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing local ballot measures in California

The sponsoring group San Benito Rising needs to collect 1,642 valid signatures to qualify its initiative for the November ballot. The group planned to collect at least 3,500 signatures by April 19, 2014. The group announced on the weekend of April 5 that circulators had collected enough signatures to bring them half way to their goal. Then on April 22, 2014, San Benito Rising turned in over 4,000 signatures to the county elections office for certification. When the signatures were certified, the county supervisors had a chance to enact the ordinance themselves. They chose, however, to put the measure before voters on November 4, 2014.[1][19][3]

Similar measures

See also: Notable 2014 local measures

Local measures

Defeatedd City of Loveland Two Year Fracking Suspension Initiative, Question 1 (June 2014)
Defeatedd Youngstown "Community Bill of Rights" Fracking Ban Charter Amendment (May 2014)
Defeatedd Johnson County Fracking Ban Referendum (March 2014)

Statewide measures

Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot Colorado Fracking Ban Initiative (2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot Michigan Fracking Ban Initiative (2014)

See also

External links

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Basic info

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References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Central Coast News, "San Benito County group pushes for anti-fracking ballot initiative," April 22, 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 San Benito Rising website, "Title and Summary," accessed July 14, 2014
  3. 3.0 3.1 Central Coast News, "San Benito County stands up to fracking," May 8, 2014
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Edible Monterey Bay, "SAN BENITO RISING FILES ANTI-FRACKING INITIATIVE," March 17, 2014
  5. 5.0 5.1 Coalition to Protect San Benito website, accessed March 17, 2014
  6. San Benito County Today, "Entire fracking ban initiative to print on sample ballot," July 13, 2014
  7. 7.0 7.1 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  8. Youtube, "San Benito County Board of Supervisors Meeting, July 8, 2014, accessed July 14, 2014
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 San Cruz Sentinel, "Fracking stirs debate in San Benito County," April 30, 2014
  10. 10.0 10.1 Berkeley Law, "Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing in California: A Wastewater and Water Quality Perspective," April 2013
  11. Think Progress, "Fracking is Creating a Rift Between Governor Jerry Brown And Some California Democrats," March 13, 2014
  12. Environmental Engineering & Contracting, Inc., "A Brief History of Hydraulic Fracturing," accessed May 6, 2014
  13. California Department of Conservation, "California Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources: an Introduction," 1993
  14. U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Review of emerging resources: U.S. shale gas and shale oil plays," accessed May 6, 2014
  15. One barrel of oil produces about 19 gallons of gas U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Frequently Asked Questions," May 30, 2013, accessed March 18, 2014
  16. Department of Conservation, "Division of Oil, Gas, & Geothermal Resources Well Finder," accessed May 7, 2014
  17. Department of Conservation, "Hydraulic Fracturing in California," accessed May 7, 2014
  18. Department of Conservation, "Well Stimulation," accessed May 7, 2014
  19. Indybay.org, "San Benito County Residents Halfway to Signature Goal for Fracking Ban Ballot Initiative," April 8, 2014