Government / Politics

Oil Production In San Benito County

Development of the local Monterey Shale oil/gas deposits would benefit the United States, California, and San Benito County



San Benito County (SBC) has a long history of petroleum production.  This year, 2014, is the 150 anniversary of the first producing oil well in the county. 

In the early days, oil wells were often stimulated with a large explosive charge, a "nitroglycerine torpedo," in the base of the well that fractured the rock allowing more oil to be recovered.  This sometimes resulted in failure of the seal between the bedrock and the shaft allowing oil to spill into the environment.  By the mid-twentieth century hydraulic fracturing (fracking) techniques were developed to fracture rock allowing for more oil recovery with less risk to the environment. 

Fracking works best on layer-type rock such as shale.  It is less efficient on harder rock such as granite.  The process consists of injecting high-pressure water into the oil-containing rock, cracking the rock.  The water often contains fine grit and surfactants to keep cracks open and improve oil flow.  Much of the water is recovered with the oil. 

The Monterey Shale Formation extends into the eastern and southern areas of SBC.  The US Energy Information Administration estimated in 2011 that the Monterey Shale Formation could contain 15.4 billion barrels of light tight oil, with about 13.7 billion barrels recoverable.  The deposit lies 6,000 and 15,000 feet below the surface, far below aquifers.  The Monterey Shale is the source for such giant oilfields as the Kern River, Elk Hills, and Midway-Sunset Oil Fields. 

A March 2013 study released by the University of Southern California estimated that development of the Monterey Shale through hydraulic fracturing could generate as many as 2.8 million jobs and as much as $24.6 billion in state and local taxes.  SBC could use its share of that. 

San Benito Rising of Aromas is circulating a petition gathering signatures to have an initiative on the (November?) ballot that, if successful, will greatly reduce petroleum production in the county.  The public hype is to "BAN FRACKING."  The initiative will do that and more.

The title of the initiative, as prepared by county council, is rather long:
"Initiative to Ban Well Stimulation Treatments and Enhanced Recovery
(such as Fracking and Steam Injection) throughout all Unincorporated Areas
of San Benito County and to Ban All Petroleum Operations
in Residential General Plan Designations in Unincorporated
San Benito County and Make Related Zoning Changes"

The summary continues:
"The proposed initiative would adopt new General Plan policies to prohibit:

(a) the use of any land within the County's unincorporated area for "High-Intensity Petroleum Operations", as defined by the initiative to include well stimulation treatments (such as hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, and acid well stimulation treatments) and enhanced recovery wells (such as cyclic steam injection), and

(b) the use of land with a residential General Plan land use designation — i.e., lands designated Rural, Rural Transitional, Rural Residential, Rural/Urban, and Sphere of Influence Rural Urban — within the County's unincorporated area for any Petroleum Operations.

"Petroleum Operations" includes all activities in connection with the exploration, drilling for, and the production of petroleum, gas and other hydrocarbons".

If successful, the initiative would not only ban Fracking, it would ban all future oil wells in the Rural areas of the County. This would be another blow to personal property rights. Existing wells would be grandfathered.

San Benito Rising is represented by Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP of San Francisco.  Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP is a law firm specializing in government, land use, natural resource, and environmental law.  The Center for Biological Diversity is thought to be the deep-pocket behind San Benito Rising.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a Non-Government Organization of the type accreted by the United Nations for implementing Agenda 21 in the United States.  The Center for Biological Diversity filed a law suit against SBC over the county Fracking Ordinance last year.

Development of the Monterey Shale in SBC has both benefits and risks. 

Obvious benefits include more industrial jobs and the service jobs that would be created.  Tax revenues would be expected to increase.  Government services (police,  fire, transportation) would be improved in the area.  SBC would actually be contributing to the United States achieving oil independent from foreign sources. 

There are also disadvantages to developing the Monterey Shale.  Roads would have to be upgraded to accommodate the increased traffic.  Large quantities of water are required.  Chemicals (surfactants) are used.  There is always the possibility of an oil spill. 

Techniques for recycling water have been developed thus reducing the quantity required.  The surfactants employed are tailored to be more efficient than the surfactants (detergents) used to wash dishes and clothes.  Waste water can be treated in a variety of ways.   

The chances of an oil spill are small.  Historical oil spills in SBC have been small and the environment easily restored. 

Contamination of ground water due to fracking is nearly impossible considering aquifers are generally at depths less than 1000 feet compared to fracking at depths in excess of 6000 feet.  The seal between the bed rock and well shaft must be maintained.

One erroneous criticism of fracking is fracking allows methane gas to dissolve in ground water producing the dramatic "flaming faucets."  The source of the methane is coal deposits in the area at depths comparable to aquifers, not from oil wells.

The Alberta (Canada) Agriculture and Rural Development – Irrigation and Farm Water Supply Division issued a "Coal Bed Methane (CBM) Requirements – Standard for Baseline Water-Well Testing for Coalbed Methane/Natural Gas in Coal Operations" in 2006.  It went into great detail on the mechanism of and the prevention of the flaming faucets.  Again, the methane is from coal deposits, not oil.

On balance, development of the Monterey Shale would benefit the nation, California, and San Benito County. 


Born and raised in rural western Kentucky. Mover to Hollister in 1992. Academic achievements include BS, MBA, PhD degrees. Taught chemistry at University of Toledo (OH). q1 Worked in defense-related industries 38 years. Retired rocket scientist.