Alameda County 1st in Bay Area to ban fracking

Ella Teevan/Courtesy

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On July 19, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ban fracking in the county — the first county in the Bay Area to pass an ordinance to do so.

The ordinance updated zoning codes so high-intensity oil and gas operations such as hydraulic and acid fracturing will not be permitted. California is the third-largest oil-producing state in the country and has many counties such as Kern County that currently frack.

An activist group that focuses on reducing carbon emissions — 350 Bay Area — began working on the ban more than two years ago with the intent of a statewide ban on fracking.

“We won and it’s really a testament to the power that we built in Alameda County,” said Ella Teevan, northern California organizer of Food and Water Watch — an environmentalist organization that supported and drafted the ban. “People really want to protect their health and water and local economy by keeping out fracking and other kinds of extreme oil.”

Fracking is a method of oil extraction that utilizes high pressure fluids to break apart shale and other geographic formations in order to reach oil deposits unavailable through traditional methods. It is widely believed to cause environmental harm through seismic instability, toxins and groundwater pollution.

Although Alameda County has not had any fracking activity in the past, many environmentalist groups supported the ban because of concerns that the county’s location above the Monterey Shale formation — a large oil deposit extending throughout California — could bring future activity. Others also see the ban as being largely symbolic.

“The impact it has is drawing attention to this particular practice and highlighting that there are a lot of people in the county who have concerns over the negative impacts of fracking,” said Andrew Campbell, executive director of the Energy Institute at the campus Haas School of Business. “There are certainly places in California where a similar ban would have a big effect — historical oil and gas areas.”

Sabrina Lockhart, director of communications at California Independent Petroleum Association, argued that the larger implications of the Alameda County ban may cause further environmental damage.

“(The ban) is part of a larger effort to stop all domestic oil production. It’ll be harmful to California because it’s under the strictest standards of the nation if not the planet,” Lockhart said. “If we’re not able to produce it here, we’ll have to import it from other places that have little to no environmental protection.”

According to Lockhart, laws and regulations in California require regular statewide reports, notifications to surrounding landowners, disclosure of chemicals used and water tests — some of which are only required in California.

Groups that supported the ban hope to use their success to push California Gov. Jerry Brown to end fracking across California. Teevan also stated that she hopes to see a transition to 100 percent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy in California.

In November, Monterey County, California, will be the next county to vote on a fracking ban.

Contact Lillian Dong at [email protected].