California residents will decide whether or not to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at the ballot box this coming Tuesday in Monterey County.
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 industry groups.
Monterey County for Energy Independence, which opposes the ban, has already spent almost $5.5 million dollars fighting it. The county is located where oil and natural gas is actually produced. Monterey’s two neighboring counties, San Benito and Santa Cruz, have banned fracking, but neither has a sizable oil industry.
The oil and gas industry has historically been regulated by the state, not local, government across much of America. The oil and gas industry is 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.