Vineyard Owners On Central Coast Weigh In
A new lawsuit says state regulators have allowed hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to expand in California without legally required oversight.
The lawsuit, filed last week in Alameda County Superior Court by the Center for Biological Diversity, seeks to compel regulators to enforce existing state law that protects people and the environment from underground injections carried out by the oil and gas industry.
In a news release, the Center for Biological Diversity said the state has yet to regulate or even monitor the controversial practice of fracking, which involves injecting water and industrial chemicals, mixed with sand, at high pressure into shale formations to release previously inaccessible stores of natural gas or oil. The water-intensive and controversial process has expanded in many areas of the country, raising concerns about impacts on drinking water supplies.
“A looming fracking boom threatens to transform California, creating serious pollution risks to our air, water and climate,” said the center’s Vera Pardee said the release. “Existing rules clearly cover fracking, but state officials don’t regulate or even track this dangerous way of extracting oil and gas. The state needs to stop ignoring the law and start protecting our environment.”
According to the center, more than 600 wells in at least nine California counties were fracked in 2011 alone. Recent advances in fracking techniques are driving a growing interest in the Monterey Shale, a geological formation holding an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil.
California’s existing oil and gas regulations cover all forms of underground injection and clearly apply to fracking, the center said in its release. While fracking was exempted from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005, no such exemption exists in California law, the center said.
On the central Coast vineyard owners have increasing concern about fracking near their water source. The Wine Spectator has published an article this month suggesting a looming controversy.
“Oilers are intensely exploring the Central Coast. In December, mineral rights leases to 17,000 acres on federal lands near vineyards in southern Monterey County were sold, and another auction is scheduled for May 2013. Vintners are starting to wonder what fracking might mean for them. “We understand that energy is an issue, just as our water is an issue,” said Paula Getzelman, who grows 5 acres of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre with her husband at Tre Gatti Vineyards in the Lockwood Valley of southern Monterey County, less than five miles from a recent federal lease sale. “What we’re saying is, if something spoils our water, we’re all done out here.”
Paul Johnson, president of the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association, agreed. “Oil companies are buying [mineral rights] up, and if oil companies are buying it, they are obviously planning on doing fracking,” said Johnson, who manages various Central Coast properties under his family’s Johnson Vineyard Com.”
The California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) released a “discussion draft” of regulations for fracking in December and has said a more formal rulemaking process will begin in 2013. Information on the discussion draft is available here.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, compliance with California’s existing oil and gas regulations would require disclosure of all fracking chemicals, as well as engineering studies and tests to evaluate the potential for underground migration of fracking fluids. State regulators would also need to ensure that fracking is conducted in a way that prevented, as far as possible, damage to life, health, property, and California’s water and other natural resources.
Contributed by Lisa Lien-Mager – ACWA News