The City of San Luis Obispo has been moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, but a county ballot measure restricting further oil expansion is currently facing strong opposition.
Measure G is on the Nov. 6 San Luis Obispo County ballot. It proposes eliminating oil expansion, but still allowing existing oil extraction and oil field maintenance to continue. The measure faces heavy opposition, and the No on Measure G Coalition has received over $5 million in donations from Chevron and other oil companies, according to Charles Varni, co-founder of the Coalition to Protect San Luis Obispo County and one of the creators of Measure G.
If passed, the measure will eliminate the possibility of any additional oil wells, extraction or expansion. Current oil extraction and routine maintenance on wells will still be permitted, according to Varni.
Measure G was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect water sources from pollution or contamination and hasten the transition to renewable energy sources in San Luis Obispo County, which fall in line with the county’s official goals, according to Varni.
The measure was motivated in part by the Price Canyon oil field proposal to expand the fields by 481 wells. “We wanted to bring forward legislation that would stop this from becoming a reality that could threaten the integrity of our drinking water as well as take steps away from a sustainable future instead of toward it,” Varni said.
Although one of the main arguments from the No on Measure G coalition is that local gas prices would increase, Varni said oil drilled in the county is all sent to the bay area to be refined and does not end up in SLO gas stations.
“The City of San Luis Obispo has the most ambitious carbon neutrality goal of any city in the United States; we are really in a leadership position,” San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon said. According to Harmon, Measure G supports that goal.
However, some San Luis Obispo County residents think it is too soon for the county to pass this measure.
“You can’t just get rid of oil drilling out of nowhere, there needs to be a better plan for it,” John Ellis, a Cal Poly adjunct business professor with a master’s degree in petroleum engineering, said. He agrees that San Luis Obispo needs to work toward more renewable energy, but also thinks there needs to be a transition period.
Other opponents of Measure G worry that hundreds of oil field workers in San Luis Obispo County will eventually lose their jobs if the measure passes.
“I fear for the economy of San Luis Obispo and for the residents who live here who rely solely on that [oil industry] income,” political science senior and vice president of the Cal Poly Republican Club CJ Campbell said.
The No on Measure G Coalition website states that, if passed, the measure will create “the loss of more than 200 jobs and millions of dollars to [San Luis Obispo County’s] economy.”
The loss of jobs would not be instant, but oil field workers would be threatened by that job loss eventually, according to Campbell. This would happen as old wells fell out of commission and new ones could not be built.
As for the impact on the county’s economy, Measure G’s fiscal impact statement says that the county collects just over $2.3 million in taxes from the local oil industry. That amount makes up .43 percent of all assessed taxes in the county.
The team that assembled the proposed measure expected this opposition from the beginning, Varni said. He believes oil companies wouldn’t be working this hard to stop the measure from passing if they did not have plans for San Luis Obispo County’s oil expansion. “If Chevron, Exxon and Shell Oil spent $6 million to keep San Luis Obispo County open for new oil wells and fracking, what do they have planned [for the county]?”
Now, voter participation will decide Measure G’s fate. Addressing Cal Poly students, Varni said, “from the depth of my heart, become involved in this election and vote in San Luis Obispo County.”