Measure G failed. Here’s what that means for SLO County’s future

Tour the Arroyo Grande Oil Field between SLO and Pismo

Take a look around the Arroyo Grande Oil Field located between Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo. It has been in operation for more than a century.
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Take a look around the Arroyo Grande Oil Field located between Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo. It has been in operation for more than a century.

A local initiative to ban fracking and new oil and gas wells in unincorporated areas of San Luis Obispo County has failed.

By 11:10 a.m. the morning after ballots were due, 55.8 percent voted “no” to 44.2 percent who voted “yes.” There are still thousands of ballots left to count, and election results won’t be certified for weeks. But it is unlikely that uncounted “yes” votes would close the 11-point gap.

Instead of phasing out oil production in the county, the industry will continue to extract from underground formations and feed the Phillips 66 refinery into the foreseeable future, providing some jobs and about $2.3 million in tax revenue.

In 2017, there were 216 active wells in the county, according to the state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources. Those wells produced 604,308 barrels of oil, less than half a percent of what was produced in the entire state of California, according to state data.

An expansion that could increase production is now more likely.

Future implications

If it had passed, the county’s general plan would have been amended to ban well stimulation treatments like fracking and all petroleum production in the county, while allowing current oil wells to continue operating. The oil industry said they would sue the county to strike down the measure. Now it won’t happen as those rules will not be adopted.

That means that fracking could happen in the future and a proposed expansion of oil production in the Arroyo Grande Oilfield could move forward.

Asking the Tough Questions

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Fracking potential

Fracking won’t start tomorrow, or even any time soon.

There currently is no hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, or active proposals to frack in the county. The use of fracking could expand in the Monterey Shale Formation — which stretches deep below the surface of much of California, including San Luis Obispo County — but its effectiveness in producing commercially-viable oil is uncertain.

Fracking uses a high-pressure combination of water and chemicals to create fractures in rock formations deep underground to release oil and increase production. California’s geology is different than other areas in the country where a fracking boom has increased domestic production. But, fracking is already used in the state, including in nearby Kern County.

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Will more wells be drilled?

A controversial plan to expand production at the Price Canyon Oil Field, a few miles from Pismo Beach, has lingered in regulatory limbo while the Environmental Protection Agency ponders whether to exempt the water aquifer from the Clean Water Act. That exemption is needed for Colorado-based Sentinel Peak Resources to drill 481 proposed new wells.

The agency has not yet made the decision, but it is expected in the next few months.

The Coalition to Protect San Luis Obispo County, which worked to get Measure G on the ballot, has promised to fight any expansion.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930; @MonicaLVaughan

Charles Varni, with Measure G, shares his thoughts after seeing the early numbers from Tuesday's election during a gathering at the Libertine Brewing Company in downtown SLO election night after the polls closed.

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