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Measure Z: Beyond the Fracking Ban

Krista Almanzan
The sign at the entrance to the unincorporated community of San Ardo in southern Monterey County.

Stefanie Krantz and David Moen walk a tightly packed New Monterey neighborhood with a map and list of likely voters.   They’re volunteers for the group, Protect Monterey County, which is behind the Yes on Z campaign.   

House by house they’re trying to get the word out on Measure Z.  Both Krantz and Moen are biologists.  Busy with full time jobs, and a young son.  But they’re passionate enough about this measure to get a baby sitter, so they can canvass for votes. 

“More than anything it’s because I have a child, and I want him to have a hopeful future.   I don’t think fracking for natural gas and polluting our water is a hopeful thing to be doing,” says Krantz.

The shorthand for Measure Z is that it bans fracking in Monterey County. A move that right now would be largely symbolic since fracking doesn’t currently happen here.   Yes on Z’s Andy Hsia-Coron attributes that to the low price of oil.

“So we want to make sure that when the price of oil goes back up, they don’t start it,” says Hsia-Coron.

Measure Z aims to accomplish more than just a ban on the potential future use of fracking.  It also stops the drilling of any new wells in Monterey County.  And it prevents disposing wastewater from oil production back into the ground.

“We should have no more wastewater injection wells in the county. And that over a five plus year period, they have to phase out wastewater injection.  In other words no more putting contaminated water back in the water supply for the valley,” says Hsia-Coron.

A new report from the non-profit Environmental Action Center raises concerns about the risks of how waste water injection wells operate in Monterey County.

But state water officials say they have no record of oil fields in Monterey County contaminating drinking water.  And call the zones where the wastewater is injected deeper and distinctly different from those aquifers.

Dallas Tubbs is a Petroleum Engineer for Chevron.  “It’s a very rigorous protocol that keeps the water table safe.  We’ve been operating there for nearly 60 years, and there’s been no evidence of contamination,” says Tubbs.

Tubbs says preventing the oil industry from drilling new wells and ending wastewater injection will ultimately put an end to the oil industry in Monterey County.  Because they can’t simply re-work old wells, and even cleaning the water would leave some wastewater with nowhere to go under the confines of Measure Z.

“I hear about these things we can supposedly do, but I’m not hearing about that from other petroleum engineers. I’m hearing about it from political activists supposing what we can do based on their understanding,” says Tubbs.

In San Ardo, oil is part of this tiny town’s identity.  When you make the drive about an hour and a half south and inland from the Monterey Peninsula, you’re greeted by an aging sign with a cowboy riding an oil pumper.

“He’s riding one of those wells, getting oil out of the ground. Oil has been here since I can remember,” says Willie Lopez who has lived in San Ardo for 64 years.

He went to the school just up the street.  So did his six children.  He worries what Measure Z will mean for his community.   “A lot of young people will lose their jobs. It’s senseless,” he says.

There’s also concern at the school, the hub of this unincorporated community.  Cathy Reimer is Superintendent and Principal of the San Ardo Union Elementary School District. 

“Chevron contributed $100,000 to help the facilities be brought up to an operating standard. And they have been a big partner with us in education,” says Reimer.

In the school’s sunlit halls, a banner touts the STEM program Chevron also helped start.  Reimer says beyond direct donations, the oil industry is an important part of the school’s tax base.

An analysis done by Monterey County’s Auditor says the oil industry paid nearly $8-million in property taxes last year with much of those funds going to schools.

“I think the will of people who are not even in this area is trying to be imposed on the people that it will mostly effect, which is a small, rural community,” says Reimer.

“It’s not the people of other parts of the county imposing of southern Monterey County.  It’s the actions of south Monterey County imposing the consequences on the rest of Monterey County,” says Hsia-Coron with Yes on Z.

Measure Z needs a majority vote to pass. 

Krista joined KAZU in 2007. She is an award winning journalist with more than a decade of broadcast experience. Her stories have won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and honors from the Northern California Radio and Television News Directors Association. Prior to working at KAZU, Krista reported in Sacramento for Capital Public Radio and at television stations in Iowa. Like KAZU listeners, Krista appreciates the in-depth, long form stories that are unique to public radio. She's pleased to continue that tradition in the Monterey Bay Area.
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