Protect Monterey's Water and Communities: Yes on Measure Z
In California and all across America, fracking for oil and gas has left a toxic legacy that is contaminating lands, polluting groundwater and harming the health of people who live in nearby communities. Measure Z, which is on the ballot this November in Monterey County, aims to protect local residents from these impacts by banning new oil and gas wells, banning existing wells from using hydraulic fracturing and other high-intensity extraction methods and phasing out oil and gas wastewater disposal injection wells or disposal ponds in the county’s unincorporated area.
Introduced by the community group Protect Monterey County, Measure Z is a response to the 2015 decision by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to reject the recommendations of its own Planning Commission to adopt a moratorium on fracking and acid well stimulation and to draft specific oil and gas regulations like those in neighboring counties. This misguided action by the Board of Supervisors left Monterey’s residents, land and groundwater unprotected from potential fracking operations.
That’s where Measure Z comes in. Where there’s oil production, there’s water. Fracking in unconventional reservoirs can require large volumes of water. While unconventional production isn’t happening in Monterey County yet, a statewide study conducted by the California Council on Science and Technology found that there’s potential for development of unconventional resources – those that need well stimulation treatments like fracking – in the County. Given California’s 5-years-and-counting drought, this simply isn’t the most responsible use of our state’s limited freshwater. We can’t let potential development become actual development.
And then there’s wastewater. In California, on average one barrel of oil results in 15 barrels of wastewater. This wastewater may contain naturally occurring contaminants like hydrocarbons, heavy metals and naturally occurring radioactive material, in addition to chemicals intentionally added during the production process for stimulation, maintenance or enhanced recovery. These materials have been linked to cancer and cognitive developmental disorders.
Underground disposal of this wastewater can result in serious environmental impacts – most notably groundwater contamination. In 2015, new information from the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources revealed that the agency had improperly permitted over 500 disposal wells to inject oil and gas wastewater into federally protected drinking water aquifers. Twenty-nine of those wells are in Monterey County.
California also allows the wholly outdated practice of disposing oil and gas wastewater into unlined pits. Though recent years have seen some improvement, these pits remain poorly regulated. Many still operate without proper permits, and regulators still don’t require adequate wastewater testing, groundwater monitoring or chemical disclosure.
The soils of the Salinas Valley produce much of America’s salad greens, strawberries and tomatoes, and the sights of Big Sur and Pebble Beach attract visitors from all over the world. Clean water sources are critical to these industries. We cannot sacrifice the health of our communities and the exceptional natural beauty of our central coast region by letting oil and gas companies run rampant with their fracking operations. That’s why NRDC is proud to support Measure Z.