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With a vote on Measure J just over a month away, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday heard a presentation about ehanced oil and gas recovery techniques from the chief deputy director of California’s Department of Conservation. A packed house of supporters and opponents of the measure, which would ban certain oil and gas extraction methods locally, were in the audience and expressed their views after the PowerPoint presentation. The speaker, Jason Marshall, was invited by the board to speak at the meeting.

Oil and gas extraction in California dates back to 1861, Marshall said, with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” being used since the 1960s. He said that his agency is the industry regulator and doesn’t speak in favor of or against ordinances. His presentation detailed various types of oil and gas recovery techniques, including fracking, which inserts water, chemicals, biocides and sand into the ground to force oil into fissures for extraction.

“All of these chemical additives are a cause for people’s concern, we get it,” he said. “That’s why we address it in legislation.”

California Senate Bill 4 put into effect new rules governing the oil and gas industry in the state, including requiring well operators to notify neighbors within 1,500 feet of a well at least 30 days prior to pumping, evaluate nearby wells to ensure seepage into them won’t occur, pressure testing the drilling system, and creating a water management plan.

“The very, very big change is that there hasn’t been baseline groundwater quality monitoring required for oil and gas” extraction prior to SB 4. “That will exist in July 2015, when a new set of rules goes iinto effect. (Well operators) will need to identify whether there is water and identify water monitoring systems. That is new and big in the protection of public health, safety and the environment. We have not just increased prevention, but monitoring after the fact.”

Marshall’s presentation pointed out how North Dakota “didn’t have much of an oil and gas industry” prior to the implementation of fracking techniques and now the economically booming state is dealing with land use changes “packaged around a concern about a way of life.”

Discussing deposits of Monterey shale, which is said to hold a billion or more barrels of oil under California, Marshall said there is some disagreement about the exact location of the deposits. “Some maps say it’s off-shore, some say it runs through San Benito County and through Santa Clara County,” he said. “The question is not where is the Monterey shale; it’s where the Monterey shale is going to be productive.”

The oil and gas industry “hasn’t quite figured out how to produce the Monterey shale,” Marshall said, as California’s geology is “folded and faulted” and bisected by earthquake faults. “Current technology requires geology that California does not have.”

Regulations on the oil and gas industry in California have been “in place for decades,” Marshall said in his presentation, adding that regulators work to “keep water out of oil and oil out of water.”

Asked by Supervisor Margie Barrios if other states are as strict as California, Marshall said no. When Supervisor Anthony Botelho expressed concern about the ability to enforce compliance with the new oil and gas production rules, Marshall said the state legislature granted his agency 65 additional staff, most of whom will be assigned to inspecting well sites and operations.

Supervisor Robert Rivas said SB 4 is well-intended, but he believes it “falls short.” While he is in favor of the disclosure requirements, he is concerned about the lack of information posted on websites like FracFocus — calling it “troubling.” Banning fracking, Rivas said, “is ithe only true way we can avert the risk associated with these operations.”

Marshall said his agency is working on gathering and posting more information about fracking operations on the Web, and that his patience with oil and gas companies “getting it right is waning.” He said the state has the ability to impose fines of up to $10,000 per day for failing to comply with disclosure rules. “It may need to be invoked in order to get their attention.”

Supervisor Jerry Muenzer opened the public comment period of the meeting with an admonition to obey the three-minute commentary period as well as no shouting, clapping, cheering or showing disrespect to any speakers or the supervisors.

Larry Rebecchi said he is concerned about the reliability of regulatory agencies and said that additional monitoring staff “doesn’t guarantee loopholes won’t still exist.”

Andy Hsia-Coron said fracking is “high-risk behavior” that “compromises what we’ve got going for us already in our county.” He suggested that the county could see how SB 4 works in other counties and then “we can reverse ourselves” on Measure J’s prohibitions if fracking is found to be safe.

Marvin Jones warned supervisors to be prepared for lawsuits if Measure J is approved and Marty Richman said the measure’s supporters are being hypocritical by using oil and gas but expecting it not to be produced in their own county.

Margaret Rebecchi compared Measure J to a measles immunization shot and said that “oil companies have no business next to” Pinnacles National Park. “We’re not trying to frighten people; we’re trying to protect our county. I don’t trust oil companies. I love my county and I do not want to see a Coalinga or San Ardo (oil-producing counties) next to our Pinnacles.”

Local rancher Joe Morris said he is concerned by the “very limited sources of data” regarding the safety of fracking technology. “I’m concerned with the government’s capacity to monitor these wells,” he said. “If our groundwater were not precious and scarce … I might be inclined to take bigger risks along these lines. Oil and water don’t mix. If in the future we learn that these technologies are safe, we can un-ban it. If we’re mistaken and we make mistakes with our groundwater, we don’t know when we can fix that.”

Kristina Chavez-Wyatt said energy independence should be supported and said stringent oil and gas regulations already exist in California. “We need to account for environmental impacts … but it is important that we don’t cut our communities off at the socks.”

Hollister attorney Paul Rovella, who said he is an heir to 15 acres of land, asked supervisors to “take this opportunity to educate the public” and themselves where Measure J leaves the county if it passes. He noted that North Dakota’s burgeoning oil and gas industry has helped that state experience its largest gains in income over the last few years.