FAQs

Here we hope to answer some of your questions, and maybe raise your concern for oil extraction in our County. The Coalition to Protect SLO County plans to successfully qualify and pass an Initiative for the November 2018 election which will prevent the drilling of new oil or gas wells and ban fracking on all the unincorporated lands of SLO County.

If you have other questions you think should be added to this list, or you think there are errors in our information, or have other questions or feedback - please contact us and we will respond.

What does the Initiative do?

A:

It will ban all new oil wells on unincorporated lands of San Luis Obispo County. Also, because there is currently no fracking occurring in our County it would prevent that from happening also. The ban would not apply to Federal lands in the County like Los Padres National Forest or the Carrizo Plains National Monument or local cities.

Who is behind this initiative?

A:

Our initiative is non-partisan and represents a diversity of volunteer supporters, all united in a desire to protect our County water resources from oil extraction toxic waste, to prevent fracking, and to keep our remaining fossil fuel resources in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global climate change. We believe that we have an obligation to protect our precious water and air resources for future generations, our children, and grandchildren.

What is fracking and why is it a problem?

A:

Much of the recoverable oil reserves are embedded deep underground in shale rock formations.  In order to recover this oil the rock must be broken up or fractured which is accomplished by injecting a combination of large amounts of water and strong chemicals and/or gasses under extremely high pressure.  After the well is “fracked” the fluids either flow back or are pumped out of the well and the oil separated. The leftover wastewater is then disposed back into the ground through specialized injection wells or allowed to evaporate and seep into the ground in surface ponds.  Fracking wastewater is highly toxic and can easily contaminate pure water used in agriculture. Each fracking operation can use up to a million gallons of water.

Read more in this article on fracking and drilling in California.

Why isn’t fracking happening now in SLO County?

A:

Oil extraction in SLO County is focused in the Price Canyon region east of Pismo Beach. The oil in this area is embedded in sand formations 500-1500’ underground where steam is injected to heat the very heavy, thick crude oil so it can be pumped to the surface. Much deeper (6000-15000’) under much of our County (and Southern California) lies the Monterey shale formation, one of the largest oil reserves in the US.  This formation would need to be fracked in order to recover oil. Currently the technical and economic challenges make this unfeasible but that can change as the price of oil rises. Any place in the County that an oil company owns mineral rights could have drilling rigs and pump stations sprout up—on farmlands, vineyards, urban and rural view sheds.

How would banning new oil wells help protect our water supplies and purity?

A:

Oil extraction practices, especially extreme ones like steam injection, fracking, use of exotic chemicals, acids, and gasses, pose serious threats to our surface and groundwater resources.  Both the large amount of water which is used (in Price Canyon 22 barrels of water for every barrel of oil recovered) and the underground disposal of toxic water threaten both water quantity and quality.  Much of the water used to produce oil could be used for beneficial uses by municipalities or farmers.  Bottom line, we need potable water more than we need dirty, heavy crude oil which is primarily exported to Asia.

How does waste water injection increase earthquake risk?

A:

Many oil and gas industry activities, including fracking, the underground injection of oil and gas wastewater, enhanced oil recovery, and fluid extraction, can induce earthquakes. Earthquakes induced by these activities are a particular concern for California because of our state’s high seismic activity and dense network of faults.  Studies in other regions have linked fracking to induced earthquakes in Ohio, Oklahoma, British Columbia and Alberta, including quakes ranging up to magnitude 4.6. Recent research indicates that fracking can induce larger earthquakes than previously expected.  The Arroyo Grande fault underlies Price Canyon oil field.

How does the initiative effect the Arroyo Grande Oil Field operation?

A:

Oil extraction using steam injection will continue in Price Canyon’s existing wells and be delivered by pipeline to the Phillips 66 refinery on the Nipomo dunes.  However, a proposed expansion of the physical oil field and production with 481 new wells, along with greatly increased water consumption and underground disposal of toxic oil wastewater, would not happen.

Why is it important we do something now?

A:

Over the past few years the Price Canyon oil operation has been bought and sold three times, indicative of operators looking for short-term profits.  The current owners, Sentinel Peak Resources, want to add 481 additional wells and expand the area into which they can inject toxic oil waste water.  Currently the operation has an area of 249 acres where wastewater injection wells are situated and they want to expand this to 807 acres.  In order to do this they must first get an “aquifer exemption” which would allow them to dispose of oil wastewater into a potable or beneficial water aquifer.  The Environmental Protection Agency administers the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and two State agencies, the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) and State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), are given authority to grant aquifer exemptions, if approved by the EPA.  Both DOGGR and SWRCB have recommended to the EPA that an aquifer exemption be granted for more wastewater injection wells in Price Canyon.  If the EPA approves the recommendation, then the Price Canyon owner can move forward with seeking County permits to drill 481 new wells.  This greatly increases the risk of groundwater pollution for the water wells of local residents and the larger Santa Maria groundwater basin which underlies Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Oceano, Pismo Beach, and the Nipomo Mesa.

Can the EPA, DOGGR, and SWRCB be trusted to protect our water in SLO County?

A:

The regulatory history of protecting clean water from injected oil waste water contamination is not a good one.  In 2011 and 2012 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found serious problems with California’s underground oil waste water injection program and the fact that over 2,500 injection wells were operating in drinking water aquifers.  The EPA ordered the wells shut down and that the State implement a review and evaluation process based on the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which prohibits injections of oil wastewater into aquifers that are or may one day be used for drinking water. For decades, despite this prohibition, the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has allowed oil producers to inject oil wastewater into aquifers that are supposed to be protected. To date, DOGGR has identified more than 2,500 wells injecting into non-exempt aquifers. Even when the full scope of DOGGR’s failure to oversee these disposal wells was revealed in 2015, DOGGR issued regulations allowing oil operators to continue dumping wastewater into protected aquifers until February 2017.  When the February 2017 deadline came, DOGGR announced that it would allow more than 1,650 wells to continue injecting oil waste into protected aquifers indefinitely.  And then make science based recommendations on which aquifers could safely be exempted from the SDWA laws, such that no drinking water would threatened by toxic oil field waste.  A deadline of February 15, 2017 was set for completion of this work.  DOGGR failed to meet the deadline and just recently recommended to the EPA that an exception be granted to the Arroyo Grande oil field.  DOGGR’s research to justify such a recommendation is seriously flawed and lacks any significant empirical research into the underground hydrological characteristics of the basin or protections for private drinking and irrigation wells.

Find out more: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org

Why leave SLO County oil resources in the ground when we could use them now?

A:

The oil reserves underlying San Luis Obispo are very heavy crudes and are some of the “dirtiest” on earth in terms of their carbon, sulfur, and other toxic elements.  Their extraction is energy intensive with a large carbon footprint.  In short, the production and consumption of these oils adds more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere at a time in history when we cannot afford to do so.  In addition, the oil from San Luis Obispo is refined by Phillips 66 and shipped primarily to Asia and India.  Conserving our County oil resources for future local generations to possibly use, after we have lowered atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses that fuel global climate change, makes good economic, environmental, and public health sense.

How does the initiative impact global climate change?

A:

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in September of 2017 the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere had risen to 407 parts per million.  They have not been that high in the past three million years, when ocean levels were 60 feet higher than today.  Greenhouse gas concentrations are the major cause of global climate change, the disastrous consequences of which we are beginning to clearly experience.  Powerful hurricanes, massive rain storms, droughts, raging wildfires, record breaking heat increase every month and year.  These are just the beginning of changes that have been set in motion by our reliance on fossil fuels.  The prevailing wisdom of the world’s climate scientists is that we must STOP the release of additional greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. That means leaving existing oil reserves in the ground and transitioning to a clean energy based economy.  In 2014 the Price Canyon oil field produced 59,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas and in 2015 78,000 metric tons.  Any expansion of oil extraction in the County would increase such emissions.

What is the economic impact of the Initiative on SLO County?

A:

SLO County has a vibrant and diverse economy with one of the largest segments being tourism which accounts for 13% of County jobs and generated $1.6 billion revenues in 2016.  In addition tourism generates $62 million in local tax revenue.  Agriculture generated $915 million in 2016.  Other major sectors like manufacturing, high tech development and services, education, and healthcare contribute billions of dollars.  In contrast, according to the oil industry’s Institute for Applied Economics, SLO County jobs in the oil extraction sector contributed about $13 million in wages in 2012 and State-wide such jobs have been declining in the intervening years.  Even after the initiative is approved, the Price Canyon oil field will continue to operate and employ workers.  As the cost of solar and other renewable energy sources continue to decline, especially in the energy production and transportation sectors, fossil fuels will be priced out of the market.  The future is about clean energy and that future is happening right now. 

In many ways San Luis Obispo County is like a third world country when it comes to our oil resources.  Our local oil is pumped out, pre-refined by Phillips 66 in Nipomo, then sent by pipeline to another refinery in the East Bay and then exported to Asia, India, South America, or whoever pays the most.  For example, in 2016 U.S. oil companies shipped an average of 10,000 barrels of oil a day to China.  By October of 2017 that had increased to 131,000 barrels.  The Phillips 66 Annual Reports clearly state that their crude oil product is primarily destined for foreign markets. 

Doesn’t the EPA say fracking does not harm drinking water?

A:

No. According to the December 2016 EPA report, Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States, “…activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle can impact—and have impacted—drinking water resources … combinations of activities and factors highlight, in particular, the vulnerability of ground­ water resources to activities in the hydraulic fractur­ing water cycle.”

Reference: www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-12/documents/hfdwa_executive_summary.pdf , page 41, “Report Conclusions."

What chemicals can be found in fracking fluid?

A:

There are a number of chemicals which are routinely used in hydraulic fracturing. The following is a list of the chemicals used most often according to fracfocus.org. They are sorted alphabetically. Many are toxic.

2-Butoxyethanol
Acetaldehyde
Acetic Acid
Acetic Acid
Ammonium Persulfate
Borate Salts
Boric Acid
Calcium Chloride
Choline Chloride
Citric Acid
Copolymer of Acrylamide and Sodium Acrylate
Ethanol
Ethylene Glycol
Formic Acid
Glutaraldehyde
Guar Gum
Hydrochloric Acid
Hydrotreated Light Petroleum Distillate
Isopropanol
Isopropyl Alcohol
Lauryl Sulfate
Magnesium Oxide
Magnesium Peroxide
Methanol
Naphthalene
Petroleum Distillate
Phosphonic Acid Salt
Polyacrylamide
Polysaccharide Blend
Potassium Carbonate
Potassium Hydroxide
Potassium Metaborate
Quaternary Ammonium Chloride
Sodium Carbonate
Sodium Chloride
Sodium Erythorbate
Sodium Hydroxide
Sodium Polycarboxylate
Sodium Tetraborate
Tetrakis Hydroxymethyl-Phosphonium Sulfate
Tetramethyl ammonium chloride
Thioglycolic Acid
Triethanolamine Zirconate
Zirconium Complex