The Cambrian

Cambria services district board calls for ban on fracking

“Fracking” for oil and natural gas should be banned in San Luis Obispo County, according to a unanimous vote May 29 by Cambria services district directors.

Cambria Community Services District board members authorized sending to county supervisors a letter and resolution opposing the use of hydraulic fracturing in the county. They said they’re especially concerned about the possibility of such processes being used on the North Coast.

The five directors recommended that supervisors issue a countywide fracking ban, at least until solid proof is available that the process won’t cause environmental damage or endanger the health and quality of life of residents.

“District staff does not have the expertise to provide an adequate analysis or specific recommendation,” general manager Jerry Gruber wrote in the staff report. “However, staff does believe that the environmental concerns raised by opponents of fracking are far reaching,” and the process “may have serious impacts on our environment and natural resources.”

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” is designed to extract gas and oil from deep beneath the Earth’s surface. According to the district staff report, wells are drilled vertically and horizontally, and various elements (such as water, chemicals and sand) are injected under very high pressure to crack shale and other rock in order to get to the fuels trapped inside.

The process uses a great deal of water, another concern for opponents in the drought-ridden town where ratepayers are under strict water-use restrictions and are facing rate increases to pay for an emergency water-supply plant to treat brackish water. The plant is to include several technologies, including reverse osmosis, often referred to as desalination.

Fracking is not currently prohibited in the unincorporated areas of San Luis Obispo County, including Cambria. There currently are no such projects on or proposed for the North Coast, but according to fracking opponent Jeff Walters of Cambria, who brought the issue to the district’s attention, Monterey tar sands and shale deposits beneath the town could be a future target for the process.

If fracking were to happen on the North Coast, he told the board May 29, “Any debate about desal would be moot. Our entire aquifer would be permanently polluted.”

The directors stressed that the letter represents opinions of the five of them, not necessarily their entire constituency, since Cambria ratepayers hadn’t had an opportunity to weigh in on the issue before the vote.