On May 1, the Coalition to Protect San Luis Obispo County delivered to the County Clerk signatures of 20,473 local registered voters, all of whom signed an initiative to ban new oil wells in San Luis Obispo County.
In November, all county voters will have the opportunity to join in and vote in favor of this measure. They can create new laws that will help protect our groundwater resources from oil field toxic wastewater, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and help lessen the impacts of global climate change.
When passed, the new laws will be very simple. All NEW oil wells and their supporting infrastructure are outlawed. All existing oil wells are allowed to continue operation, meaning that the jobs and taxes they provide will continue for the estimated 25 years of remaining reserves in the Price Canyon field.
Passing these laws is important because of the possible revival of plans to expand the Price Canyon operation by 481 new wells (this was part of the package purchased by the current owner, Sentinel Peak, and a big piece of the oil field's value). This would mean a 1,000 percent increase in the amount of highly toxic oil field wastewater that will be disposed of by injection wells into the Santa Maria basin drinking water aquifer that underlies the Five Cities.
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With new laws, our drinking water will be much safer, as will the multi-million dollar Coastal Blue municipal wastewater recycling program proposed by Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande and Oceano.
In addition, new laws will prevent fracking and acidizing, two extremely risky oil extraction technologies that also threaten the quality of our groundwater. Currently, we have no fracking in the county and this initiative keeps it that way.
You will hear people say that there is no threat of this ever happening here because the Monterey Shale formation which underlies us is not frackable. Not true. Right next door in Kern County there are thousands of fracking wells. In addition, the use of hydrofluoric and other acids to melt the Monterey Shale (acidizing) and thus release its oil could also be used if operators choose not to frack.
Both methods require massive amounts of water and both inject large amounts their toxic wastes into the underground basins — or, as in Kern County, in unlined, unfenced percolation ponds.
Imagine oil drilling towers springing up in SLO county vineyards, on grazing land, or in our oak woodlands. Impossible? Ask the residents of beautiful and remote Huasna Valley, east of Arroyo Grande. In the past 10 years they have fought separate attempts by wildcat drillers to establish oil production facilities literally across the street from their homes and ranches.
Soon you’ll be hearing from Big Oil as they gear up to defeat this people’s initiative with distortions, exaggerations and outright fabrications.
They will spend millions of dollars on flashy mailers, radio and TV ads, and targeted social media to influence this election. You’ll hear that we need this local oil to keep America independent, knowing full well that every drop is sold on the international market, and has been for years. The last big oil rush is on and the market is not the Unites States.
For example, the Bloomberg Report (8.27.17) details how in 2016 the U.S. was exporting an average of 10,000 barrels of oil a day to China. By October of 2017 this was up to 130,000 barrels per day. Fracking for export to make their last billions.
We live in a unique period of the Earth’s history. In the last 100 years we have released carbon dioxide that was originally removed from the atmosphere by plants and single-cell organisms over a period of 500 million years. Scientists at Exxon and the American Petroleum Institute discovered a generation ago that this massive release of greenhouse gases had the potential to cause global warming and initiate unprecedented climate change — and they chose to keep it a secret and initiate a “fake news” program denying carbon dioxide emissions had any impact on smog or climate change. Today we are experiencing and living with this consequence. Polar ice caps have melted to their smallest mass since human civilization began. Droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, super storms, and rising sea levels are some of the more obvious impacts. The growing millions of climate change refugees around the world create social stresses and conflicts.
The campaign to approve the ballot measure to ban new oil wells will be a grassroots focus on public education based on scientific and historical facts. We plan to have forums, town hall meetings and debates across the county. We want to be invited into homes, clubs, HOA’s, civic groups and local city councils.
We won’t be able to compete with the millions of dollars Big Oil will spend to defeat us but we have something they do not — the power of local citizens interested in protecting their precious natural resources for generations to come, rather than risk their contamination for short term profits by non-county corporations who ultimately care little about the damage they cause. Please join our efforts at http://protectslocounty.org
Oceano resident Charles Varni is co-chair of the Coalition to Protect San Luis Obispo County. He has a doctorate degree in social ecology/sociology.