SLO County residents debate banning fracking, oil wells on the Central Coast
If you live in San Luis Obispo County, you’ve likely seen advertisements trying to persuade you to vote no on Measure G in November. They’re in your mailbox, on your TV, on the sides of roads, and in your Facebook and Twitter feeds.
They’re everywhere and you’re likely going to see more. As of Sept. 22, the No on Measure G campaign reported it has received $4.7 million in contributions and spent $2.16 million this year.
Most of that money is from a single contribution of $4 million from Chevron Corp. to defeat the local initiative — which would prohibit new petroleum extraction and well stimulation treatments such as fracking in unincorporated areas of the county — even though the company doesn’t currently do much business there.
While this is by far the biggest contribution any campaign has received in the history of San Luis Obispo County, proponents expected to see big money in the election.
Chevron poured millions into a campaign to fight a similar measure in Monterey County, where the company operates more than 700 oil wells, according to data from the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources searchable well database.
It makes sense that a corporation would be motivated to protect the profitability of its assets. But Chevron doesn’t appear to operate much in San Luis Obispo County.
That database shows that Chevron only has around 40 wells in San Luis Obispo County, about half of which are currently active.
That’s also the case for another large donor to the No on Measure G campaign, Aera Energy LLC, which is jointly owned by Shell Oil Co. and ExxonMobil.
Aera Energy reportedly donated $675,000 to the campaign on Sept. 25. It also contributed to the 2016 campaign in Monterey County, where the database shows the company has more than 600 wells.
The database shows that Aera has no wells in San Luis Obispo County.
The Tribune asked industry representatives and Chevron specifically why the company is so invested in the outcome of the San Luis Obispo County measure.
Sean Comey, a senior public affairs advisor for Chevron, responded via email that “We exercise our fundamental right and responsibility to advocate positions on policies that can affect the company’s ability to explore for and produce energy. We do so consistent with U.S. laws and Chevron policies.”
Proponents of Measure G speculated that Aera and Chevron’s involvement is a sign that the companies plan to expand locally.
Charles Varni, a spokesman for backers of the measure, said that when technological capacity intersects with the right price for a barrel of oil, extraction begins.
“We know that without Measure G there’s always a possibility for more production, a potential for further exploration and development in the county,” said Clare Lakewood, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. The group has contributed $46,400 in non-monetary donations such as legal services and T-shirts.
The coalition supporting Measure G reported on Sept. 22 that it had received $184,000 and spent $124,000.