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NEWS FLASH: Monterey County Board of Supervisors votes unanimously to send the letter explained below.


The Monterey County Board of Supervisors is being asked Tuesday to send a letter to state regulators asking them not to allow oil producers to sidestep state and local regulations intended to prevent contamination of potable water supplies in southern Monterey County.

The state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, commonly known as DOGGER, is considering a proposal to expand exemptions for two of the San Ardo-area oilfields, which would allow additional use of injection techniques and underground disposal of wastewater from those processes.

Protect Monterey County, the organizers of the Measure Z anti-fracking initiative passed in November, has been lobbying the supervisors to enforce that measure and take other steps to protect the water and resist the oil industry’s attempt to pressure the county to disregard the letter and intent of the ballot measure.

Oil pump jacks at sunset sky background. Toned.

The letter being considered Tuesday was drafted for the county by the County Counsel’s Office, which earlier worked with the oil companies to delay implementation of Measure Z until the industry’s legal challenges have been adjudicated.

The matter is scheduled for sometime shortly after 10 p.m. at the supervisors’ chambers, 186 W. Alisal St. in Salinas.

The draft letter follows:

To Whom it May Concern:

The County of Monterey (“County”) submits these comments in response to the Notice of Proposed Aquifer Exemption (“Notice”) published by the California Department of Conversation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“Division”) on January 11, 2017. According to the Notice, the Division is considering a proposal (“Proposal”) “to expand the current aquifer exemption designation for the Lombardi and Aurignac Sands of the Monterey Formation to the geologic limits of each unit in and around the San Ardo and McCool Ranch Oil Fields located about 2 miles southeast of the town of San Ardo, CA along Highway 101 at Alvarado Rd.” If the Division and other regulatory agencies approve the Proposal, the resulting exemption “would allow the State, in compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, to approve Class II injection into the identified area for enhanced oil recovery or for injection disposal of fluids associated with oil and gas production.”

The federal Safe Drinking Water Act and state law require the protection of underground sources of drinking water. Underground sources of drinking water are defined broadly in federal regulations to include any aquifer that supplies or contains a sufficient quantity of groundwater to supply a public water system and that has a total dissolved solids composition of less than 10,000 mg/l. (40 C.F.R. § 144.3). As the Division’s Statement of Basis concludes, the area subject to the Proposal meets this definition of an underground source of drinking water that is required to protection.

If certain criteria are met, underground sources of drinking water may be exempted from protection such that Class II injection into the underground source may be permitted. Among other criteria, the underground source must not currently serve as a source of drinking water or cannot now and will not in the future serve as a source of drinking water for specified reasons. (40 C.F.R. § 146.4). In addition, injection into the source must not affect the quality of water that is, or may reasonably be, used for any beneficial use. (Public Resources Code § 3131.)

The County requests that the Division carefully consider whether the Proposal satisfies the requirements for an exemption and whether this is an appropriate instance in which the Division should use its discretion to permit the disposal of fluids associated with oil and gas production into this particular underground source. Citizens of Monterey County have long expressed concern about the public health and safety issues associated with the injection of fluids into the County’s groundwater. In November of 2016, the voters in Monterey County approved Measure Z, an initiative that amends the County’s General Plan and related land use documents to create land use prohibitions associated with oil and gas land uses. Measure Z contains several findings that address the relationship between Class II injections and groundwater quality in the County, including, but not limited to, impacts to beneficial uses. These findings suggest that the criteria for an exemption from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act’s protection of this underground source of drinking water may not be warranted. The Division should carefully consider these findings as part of its assessment of the Proposal.

On behalf of its residents, the County is concerned that the Proposal may negatively impact public health and safety as expressed in Measure Z. The County believes that the Division should not approve the Proposal unless it can demonstrate to the residents of the County that these public health and safety impacts, including impacts to beneficial uses, will not occur.


JEANNE TURNER: Why Measure Z is good for Monterey County


Aged Oil Pump on Colorado Prairie with Mountain Hills in the Background. Oil Industry Theme.Since our governor accepts large contributions from Big Oil, he is not going to support a ban on fracking in California, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo did for New York. So the group known as Protect Monterey County helped write the Measure Z initiative, on Monterey County’s Nov. 8 ballot, which is meant to accomplish that goal.

Despite the unanimous recommendation of the Monterey County Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors, by a 3-2 margin, voted not to place a moratorium on fracking in the county. That left us no alternative but to create the initiative. All statements made in the initiative had to be supported by documented research before the attorneys would include them in the initiative’s language. The main reason our coalition put Measure Z on the ballot is because of the horrific water contamination taking place.

The oil production in San Ardo is done by steam injection or flooding. The steam is put down one well to loosen the viscous oil in the tar sands, and then both the oil and water are brought up through what is called a production well. What is produced along with the liquified oil is wastewater — water that went down there to liquify it the oil. It is contaminated by the chemicals in the oil and by arsenic and lead naturally occurring in the soil.

One-third of this 13.8 million gallons of water used daily is cleaned by reverse osmosis, but two-thirds of it is put into wastewater injection wells that go down into “protected” aquifers. For decades, oil companies have operated in the county with little oversight or environmental review despite the industry’s advertised claims of stringent regulation.

For example, local oil operators have been disposing of their wastewater using injection wells for many years, in violation of the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act. In fall 2015, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board notified six oil companies — Chevron and Aera the two largest — that 35 out of their 44 wells are illegally injecting wastewater into protected aquifers near the Salinas River. Letters were sent giving owners of these wells until February 2017 to cease use of these wells, or get exemptions from the Department of Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) — a regulatory agency that generally caves in and grants exemptions so the practice of water contamination continues. That’s why we have to stop this, and our only remaining alternative is to use the initiative process.

John Steinbeck wrote of the Salinas River being an “upside down river,” not because it flows north but because there is far more water hidden as groundwater than can be seen in the river itself. It is all the same water, fed by the underground aquifers.

It is not a matter of if but when the Salinas River groundwater will become irreversibly contaminated. As the river flows north from San Ardo it impacts agriculture and tourism, Monterey County’s top two industries, ultimately flowing out into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary where there are myriad species of sea life.

Despite all the hype in the No on Z television ads, the oil extraction companies pay only 1 percent or less of the property tax collected in Monterey County. There are fewer than 200 workers in the oil fields, most of whom are brought in from outside the area by contractors. The crude oil is put on trains that go down to L.A., where it goes out on the open market. It does not make Monterey County energy independent.

What you are hearing and seeing are scare tactics from an industry that has enjoyed the freedom to do pretty much as it wished, thanks to the Halliburton Act. Can the rest of us put dirty water into clean aquifers? No, the water we use goes through sewage treatment. Every other industry is required to clean its wastewater.

The industry will have to clean up all its contaminated water (not just the 30 percent that they clean now). Even with water cleanup, profits will remain in the billions.

Does our initiative shut down oil operations in San Ardo? No. They are allowed to continue using the over 1,500 wells in existence. No jobs will be lost because the oil companies are not serious about shutting down if Measure Z passes. The 1 percent of the county’s property tax that they pay will still be there. In fact, cleaning all their contaminated water (not just 30 percent of it, as they do now) would provide new jobs. So passing Measure Z will actually result in a net increase in jobs.

Those interested in the Yes on Z campaign can contact me or go to protectmontereycounty.org/. We now have two headquarters — one at 1340 Munras Ave., Suite 308, Monterey, and the other at 521 S. Main St., Salinas. Both are open 3 to 7:30 p.m. weekdays and 9 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 7:30 p.m. on weekends; 831-272-2084.

Jeanne Turner lives in Monterey. This piece originally appeared in the Monterey Herald.


Colourful lollipop on green background with copy spaceExpect oil industry to pull out all stops to fight Monterey County anti-fracking initiative

Most Americans are familiar with Abraham Lincoln’s famous saying that, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” I think that’s good, as far as it goes but, nowadays, it doesn’t go far enough – and that’s where the Turner Corollary (TC) comes in.

The TC states that “With the help of a slick, professional, high-priced public relations campaign, you can fool most of the people most of the time.”

I tell you this because, if we are successful in our efforts to get an initiative on the November ballot to ban fracking in Monterey County, you can expect to be subjected to the slickest, most professional and most expensive public relations (PR) campaign to defeat it that the Petroleum Institute’s (PI) bottomless pockets can buy.

Although I have indulged my ego by naming the corollary after myself, I am certainly not the first person to notice the connection between corporate PR campaigns and the defeat of grassroots political campaigns.

John Stauber is a progressive political activist who noticed, in the 1970s, that he would enter a campaign (to halt construction of a nuclear power plant, for instance) with polls showing that his side had a 60-40% lead only to end up losing the election by 60-40%. He, also, noticed that the opposition (the nuclear power industry, for instance) mounted a very slick, professional and expensive PR campaign that was very effective in changing peoples’ minds. Very few of the factors that changed minds had anything to do with honestly demonstrating that nuclear power was safe or that the claims made by the anti-nuclear folks were wrong. Rather, by repeating lies and half-truths over and over in every media (TV, radio, print, mail – and add all of our new social media today) and even using people paid by the PR campaign canvassing door-to-door extolling the virtues of nuclear power. These folks did not identify themselves as being paid by the PR campaign and tried to appear, as much as possible, as simply concerned and involved citizens who just wanted to counter the anti-nuclear position.

Stauber’s growing understanding of how these PR campaigns were resulting in his causes losing elections led him to research the PR industry, in general, and the dirty tricks employed by these PR campaigns, in particular, that contributed to those losses. You can read about this in his 1995 book, co-written by Sheldon Rampton, entitled, Toxic Sludge Is Good For You : Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry. Although the book is over 20 years old, it is as relevant now as it was then.

Incidentally, these PR techniques work because (or only when) they are unopposed. And they are usually unopposed because legitimate grassroots organizations – like Public Water Now in 2014 and Protect Monterey County in 2016 – rarely have access to the millions of dollars that corporations have. In 2014 Cal Am outspent Public Water Now $2.5 million to $100,000 on the measure favoring public ownership. That’s a 25:1 advantage.

We can expect to see a similar asymmetrical assault by the PI against our fracking ban. As a matter of fact, it has already begun. Ads by the PI have been appearing on TV, for months, extolling the virtues of oil production in Monterey County. The good news is that the situation is not hopeless. It is possible for grassroots political campaigns to defeat the PR campaigns of these rapacious corporations with the application of “people power.” If we are successful in mobilizing enough people to go door-to-door talking to their neighbors, explaining our position and exposing the lies of the PR campaign and its shills who may also be knocking on doors, we can be successful in the general election.

One final thought. The unfair advantage that wealthy people and corporations with limitless funds have in U.S. elections has been going on for so long (long before Citizens United in 2010) that most Americans don’t even bother remarking about it – if they notice it at all. They act as if this money imbalance is just an inevitable part of the political environment – which it isn’t. But that discussion will have to wait for another essay.

Turner, a retired Monterey dentist, is a community activist.