I believe San Benito County government officials should consider the effects of Hydraulic Fracturing on both the local economy and the local environment after the 2014 EPA Study and all hydrologic and geologic data has been analyzed. I am not a pro-energy company advocate or anti-environment antagonist on this issue. I do believe the potential opportunity of energy extraction in San Benito County should be carefully weighed and provided all due diligence and due process as a matter of public deliberation by all local government officials. I fully respect the opinions of my friends and neighbors opposed to hydraulic fracturing and join in the collective concern about the potential dangerous and harmful effects of the process on the environment and drinking water in San Benito County.
My personal background: I am not a scientist or civil engineer. I have worked in the water utility industry for almost 25 years – 11 in management – and have lived in Hollister since 1995. I hold certificates/licenses as: Water Distribution Operator, Water Treatment Operator, Backflow Prevention Assembly Tester and Cross Connection Control Specialist. I also taught Water Distribution Operation and Maintenance and Water Treatment Operator vocational classes in Hollister and San Juan Bautista about 10 years ago. I was a friend of Howard Harris – Local Geologist and Water Guru who helped form the San Benito County Water District and Gavilan College – for years prior to his death. I co-founded the San Benito Stage Company and the San Benito Arts Council and served on the San Benito County Planning Commission for about 2 years. I consider myself passionate about my family, my community, my profession and the science/engineering disciplines that guide, inform and regulate water quality and efforts to curtail pollution of the environment in California and the United States.
The U.S. EPA: I encourage the reader to do some research regarding the Environmental Protection Agency (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EPA). The EPA sets minimum standards for environmental pollution of three principle media in the U.S.: Air, Land and Water. Prior to its establishment, the federal government had no agency with the power to authorize, legislate and regulate known and unknown pollutants/contaminants traceable to responsible parties through waste streams and toxic dumping. Public and private industry polluted the environment with impunity causing illness and death to humans, fish and animals. The Cuyahoga River (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuyahoga_River) became the proverbial ‘poster boy’ for pollution in the United States; a river so polluted by industrial wastes that it literally caught fire and could not be put out for a period of time. The story went national on the network TV news and front page newspaper stories. The federal government could not possibly deny the overwhelming evidence of increasing environmental pollution contaminating land, lakes, rivers, streams and air pollution so bad that ‘acid rain’ fell from clouds in polluted skys across the United States.
The U.S. EPA has played a major role in protecting the environment since its inception in the early 1970’s. It also authored and promulgated the Clean Water Act of 1974 which established primary and secondary drinking water standards in the U.S. (primary standards regulate contaminants in drinking water that affect human health, secondary standards regulate the aesthetic quality of water; hardness, clarity, odor, etc.). Drinking water standards have changed through the years as science, medicine and public health standards and the ability to measure/analyze chemical, biological and radiological contaminants have improved. States including California must meet or exceed drinking water quality standards and other environmental pollution criteria. California has some of the strictest water quality, air quality and land pollution standards in the entire United States.
But the EPA has not yet concluded its study of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and its impact on the environment in the U.S. That study is due out this year, 2014. I presume and believe the study will have used the best scientific and engineering methodologies regarding ‘fracking’ through peer reviewed study and analysis by which the energy industry and state and local governments will reference in order to fully deliberate the process for future energy extraction applications. Existing processes for fracking may change in the near future as well. Rather than using high pressure water as the driving catalyst behind fracking, other mediums and processes may be pilot studied and implemented.
I also encourage the reader to investigate the San Benito County Water District web site regarding hydrologic studies of the groundwater basin in San Benito County. The groundwater table (aquifer) is not a monolithic substrata of permeable water bearing soil. Depending on the geology and proximity to streams and rivers, groundwater may be shallow or deep and its water quality chemical/mineral constituents will vary – and the definition as a hard water (high in minerals measured as calcium carbonate equivalents) also varies; some places its just hard water, some places its extremely hard water. But without a scientific/engineered hydrologic survey, it is impossible to say that fracking is bad for all of San Benito County. In fact, some places in the county may have large deposits of extractable energy with no harmful effect on water quality due to the respective depths of natural gas deposits and the groundwater table.
From the EPA web site: “EPA is working with states and other key stakeholders to help ensure that natural gas extraction does not come at the expense of public health and the environment. The Agency’s focus and obligations under the law are to provide oversight, guidance and, where appropriate, rulemaking that achieve the best possible protections for the air, water and land where Americans live, work and play. The Agency is investing in improving our scientific understanding of hydraulic fracturing, providing regulatory clarity with respect to existing laws, and using existing authorities where appropriate to enhance health and environmental safeguards.”
The local economy may, indeed, benefit from a responsibly managed energy extraction industry in San Benito County. I encourage concerned neighbors to keep an open mind about the possibilities of a newly diversified economy and the prospect of improved economic development as a result of new jobs and tax revenue generated by a safe and regulated natural gas industry in the county. I know and understand that many people will never agree with or appreciate my opinion on the matter. But I respectfully offer this perspective with the hope of a more balanced view of improving prosperity and economic development in San Benito County in the future.
Michael Smith, Hollister