San Luis Obispo City Council voted unanimously Aug. 21 to support a county-wide measure against expanding oil drilling after a Cal Poly student’s activist efforts.
This measure, titled Measure G, would prevent new wells from being built, prohibit current production from being expanded and ban fracking and well stimulation in San Luis Obispo County.
Existing drilling operations would not be halted under the measure.
Environmental management and protection senior Dominique Dashwood asked San Luis Obispo City Council to support the measure as part of the ‘Yes on Measure G’ campaign. The council directed staff to write a resolution in support and approved it on Aug. 21.
“Growing up in Southern California near the ocean, I’ve always felt a strong connection to the environment and wanting to care for it,” Dashwood said. “So this seemed like the perfect opportunity because it’s where I’ve lived, the local area. If this does pass, it would be such a great success for all the people here.”
Sentinel Peak Resources, which owns the Arroyo Grande oil field off of Price Canyon Road, said the measure would shut down existing oil and gas production, despite the language of the measure clearly allowing for current wells to continue.
“This shut-down would put hundreds of workers at risk of losing their jobs and would result in a loss of millions of dollars in annual state and local tax revenues that are used to support public safety and schools,” Director of Environmental Health and Safety for Sentinel Peak Resources Christine Halley wrote in an emailed statement.
There are not any active applications for Sentinel Peak Resources to expand operations, Halley wrote, adding that the current oil field still has untapped reserves. Despite Halley’s concerns, the measure allows for maintenance and continuation of existing production.
“Petroleum extraction land uses lawfully existing on the effective date may continue as nonconforming uses to the extent allowed under state and local law,” the measure reads. “Such uses shall not be enlarged, increased, extended, or otherwise expanded or intensified.”
Supporters of the measure are concerned about possible oil disasters, citing the 1926 Tank Farm Fire caused by a lightning strike to oil tanks, the long-time leakage of 400,000 gallons of oil under Avila Beach between the 1970s and 1990s, and the 120,000 gallons spilled in the Refugio Oil Spill in 2015.
“We’ve had a number of unbelievably huge oil accidents in our history in San Luis Obispo and a lot of the memory of those incidents is going out of public knowledge, I think, especially with some young people,” physics lecturer and ‘Yes on Measure G’ activist Lizza Demsetz said.
The text of the measure points out 20 other arguments, including San Luis Obispo County’s high earthquake risk, the county’s low oil quality and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.
San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon said she supported the measure out of concern for environmental protection in line with the city’s climate action plan.
“I am absolutely against fossil fuel of any kind,” Harmon said.
Opponents of the measure argue it would ban all oil and petroleum production. According to the text of the measure, current oil and petroleum production would not be forced to stop. The measure’s text also reads that “routine maintenance of existing petroleum extraction operations, wastewater disposal or the exercise of any vested right” are not prohibited.
“Rather than banning all oil and gas production, we should continue to produce energy safely here, under the worlds strictest environmental regulations, as we transition to a clean energy economy,” ‘No on Measure G’ Communications Director Matt Cunningham wrote in an email to Mustang News.
“Though proponents of Measure G may say their initiative will only affect future wells, the reality is that beyond routine maintenance existing wells require ongoing and necessary repairs, improvements, and upgrades, which would be prohibited under Measure G,” Cunningham wrote. “Banning such techniques and critical parts of production means that existing oil and gas production will ultimately be shut down.”
Cunningham did not respond to a request for a clarification.