California residents of Monterey County will decide whether or not to ban hydraulic fracturing Tuesday.
The proposed ban would directly restrict fracking and the drilling of new wells, in addition to restricting how oil companies dispose of water from the process.
The vote is being closely watched by both national environmental and oil industry groups since it’s one of the first local fracking bans proposed in a region which actually produces oil. Monterey County has been producing oil since the 1940s, and commercial oil production in California has been occurring since the 1850s.
Neighboring San Benito and Santa Cruz counties have banned fracking, but neither has a sizable oil industry.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has come out in support of the initiative and urged Monterey County voters to ban fracking, saying “I hope very much that Monterey County will continue the momentum that makes it clear that fracking is not safe, and is not what we need for our kids.”
“Oil production has been a vital part of the Monterey County economy for more than 60 years,” Sabrina Lockhart, a spokesperson for Monterey County Citizens for Energy Independence, told The Californian. “California already has the strictest environmental regulations in place.”
Lockhart’s group has already spent almost $5.5 million dollars fighting Measure Z.
The oil and gas industry has historically been regulated by the state, not local, government across much of America. Industry groups are worried that local rulings could create a regulatory “patchwork,” which could hamper energy development in California. Environmental groups The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Food and Water Watch, and local groups currently support local bans on fracking largely because they claim it contaminates ground water and makes the air dirtier.
Judges have been hostile to the environmental legal theory of banning fracking at the local level. Colorado’s Supreme Court struck down local fracking bans in early May, a federal judge did the same thing in West Virginia in mid-June as did Louisiana’s Supreme Court. Many states have passed laws expressly preventing local fracking bans.
Despite these legal setbacks, campaign finance disclosure reports show that these environmentalist groups have donated time and money supporting local fracking bans initiatives, including time to collect signatures and advertisements for signature gatherers on behalf of the initiative. Activists with these green groups are calling the initiatives “the biggest,” most important fight on behalf of the environment this year.
Similarly, EPA data found that fracking has significantly decreased air pollutants across the country. States with economies that are reliant on fracking have about 10 percent cleaner air than states that haven’t embraced the process, according to an analysis of EPA data by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
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