A previous editorial chided local government for its lack of effort at marketing the Pinnacles National Park and that the “economic behemoth” that is our nations newest national park is being neglected, under advertised and generally ignored by the business sector and government. The reality is that benign neglect would be preferable to what may be in store for the park if the development of oil and gas resources is allowed in San Benito County. Over one hundred years ago the Pinnacles gained protection from miners and resource interests intent on despoiling this priceless natural wonder. The park, with its host of unique rock formations and species, is once again in danger, but this time the danger is posed by an external threat.
Last February the Bureau of Land Management held a series of public hearings around the Monterey Bay area to elicit public comments regarding oil and gas development in the Hollister Field Office jurisdiction. An interesting map was displayed at the meetings showing BLM administered lands forming a great ring around the Pinnacles National Park. The Pinnacles National Park is home to the endangered California condor which is the Park’s signature species. The condors range over a large area in their hunt for carrion and much of that area overlaps the previously mentioned BLM and private lands in the South County. The County Board of Supervisors has imposed more stringent regulations on companies engaged in oil and gas development in San Benito County, however, the reality is that there is very little enforcement and accidental spills of toxic substances are inevitable. One oil company, Citadel, is planning on developing a square mile of private property a few miles from the park boundary. Condors are known to drink from stock watering troughs located on this property. Citadel intends to use an extreme stimulation technique known as cyclic steaming, which would involve drilling multiple wells and injecting high pressure steam into this very shallow, 300 to 600 foot depth, oil deposit. A well bore leak or blowout from any one of these multiple wells that could release oil and toxic materials into the aquifer or to the surface is all but a certainty. A contaminated aquifer could pollute the waters of adjacent ranches and the already endangered condors would be subjected to even greater risk.
It is sadly ironic that, on the one hand, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has spent and continues to expend considerable funds to protect and restore the California condor while, on the other, the Bureau of Land Management seeks to lease land for oil and gas development that will most likely have a direct negative impact on the species. Oil leases on BLM land could bring industrial development and potential water contamination to the very border of the park. Currently, sustainable grazing operations in the South County surround and protect the Pinnacles and these ranches depend on clean water supplies for their existence.
The newspaper editorial suggested that the local business community get busy developing a marketing plan to sell the Pinnacles experience to visitors and that the “majestic” Highway 25 be showcased. How majestic will the view be if pump jacks and drill rigs dot the landscape? How will it add to the tourist experience if drivers are busy swerving to avoid eighteen wheel trucks hauling oil, water, gravel and drill rod on the narrow Highway 25? Local jobs and businesses depend on tourists visiting the Pinnacles and have for decades. Oil and gas development in the San Benito County could drive those tourists away.
Over one hundred years ago, through the efforts of local residents, the Pinnacles was set aside as a national monument and protected from resource development. An initiative that will ban extreme oil extraction in San Benito County will be on the ballot this November and will allow the residents of San Benito County to reaffirm protection for the Pinnacles National Park.