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I wrote earlier about the reasons that Aromas Cares for the Environment, or ACE, endorsed San Benito County’s Measure J. I’ve been reading a lot of arguments published against Measure J, and I’d like to address several of them:

“There are no studies proving that high-intensity oil development causes ground water pollution.” This is a patently untrue statement. I encourage you to do the research yourself. How many years did the tobacco companies “influence” scientific studies and obscure the truth? There probably would be more information available,  EXCEPT that our legal system allows, even encourages, settlements between parties which allow the defendant (in this case the oil company doing the fracking) to  (a) not admit what they did publicly and (b) require the injured party to agree not to disclose why they got paid off.

Imagine a fracking rig sets up near where you live, your well water becomes toxic, and your family becomes ill from chemicals in the air. Your property becomes unmarketable and without value. You complain to the oil company doing the drilling, and they offer you a cash settlement so you can move your family. Except one thing: You can’t tell anyone that they paid you off, and the oil company doesn’t have to admit publically that they caused a problem.

“There are no fracking wells in San Benito County, so what are people worried about?” There is a well being fracked three miles from Aromas at the Sargent oil field in southern Santa Clara County. Ask the oil industry, and they’re not about to make a commitment not to frack us in the future. We need to say no now, by voting yes!

“Fracking has been going on in California for 60 years. It’s different from the new horizontal fracking that’s going on in other states, and it hasn’t caused any problems.” First of all, two years ago DOGGR, the state agency charged with regulating oil drilling in California, couldn’t tell you which wells had been fracked. They didn’t keep track. So how would the regulators know if there were any problems? Fracking has evolved here, with an increase in toxic chemicals being pumped into the earth. Second, there’s no guarantee that other fracking technologies that have caused serious problems elsewhere won’t be used here. The oil industry is searching to find a way to “unlock” the Monterey Shale, part of which is under San Benito County. That way will likely include  toxic chemical additives.

“The EPA and state regulators will protect us.” Oil and gas drilling are exempt from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act. Ask yourself why THAT happened and who persuaded legal representatives to allow it? Oil lobbyist had previously “persuaded” Congress to exempt petroleum drilling  from the Clear Water Act. That act helped this county turn the corner in the 1970’s and reverse decades of serious environmental decline. Big success story. But the oil industry doesn’t have to comply. As for DOGGR, many consider them to be a “captive” regulator, biased toward the industry. Take a look at how it works to see why it is flawed.

“Measure J bans all oil extraction in San Benito County.” Read the ordinance. This is a lie. It does ban all petroleum wells in the 3 percent of the county that is zoned as “residential.” This is common sense. Even areas zoned five acres would be severely impacted. Not much could ruin your weekend more than having an oil field next door to you home!

“Measure J supporters are against the Panoche solar farm.” Some environmentalists may have opposed this project. Many of us support it strongly. (Please stop putting words in my mouth!) It’s imperative that we change our energy economy.

Most of the recent oil projects that have been proposed for San Benito County use steam injection. The argument is made that this enhanced recovery technique has been used widely in California for many years, and therefore it must be a good thing. People have been burning coal for a long time, too. Harvesting oil with this technology consumes a great deal of energy. Every barrel of oil produced requires burning about 3,000 cubic feet of natural gas to make the steam! Have you heard of the tar sands in Alberta, Canada? Extracting this oil requires also huge amounts of energy. Climate scientists say that if we proceed with extracting all of this high energy-embodied oil, it will be game over for the battle against climate change. The heavy oils in Central California, produced by injecting steam, are significantly worse than the Canadian tar sands. That means far more carbon into the atmosphere for each unit of useful energy produced. Just because steam injection is being used widely in California, it doesn’t mean that this is a wise path to our energy future. Where we invest today’s energy dollars will have long term implications.

This story can have a happy ending. Californians realize that the world needs energy to thrive, but that we must move past carbon based energy to avoid a climate disaster. Investing in oil drilling infrastructure that will exist for decades will make it impossible for our economy to make a timely transition to clean and green, domestically produced energy. Solar and wind have become cost effective today. Photovoltaic electric panel prices are down 70 percent in the last five years, and are continuing to fall. California can lead on this issue, as it’s done on so many issues in the past. It’s going to be hard to change the course of the humongous oil super tanker that is our economy, with oil money saturating our political process. Don’t be fooled by the million dollar barrage of media and color glossy fliers that claim that the people supporting Measure J are the outsiders and that the people spending that million dollars are locally based. Don’t let the oil industry buy this election.

– Seth Capron, esident of San Benito County for 44 years.