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Fracking: a small town deals with big oil

Under CC license from Flickr user Public Herald
Pennsylvania farmer sees fracking's effects on farms.

California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in years. As politicians try to figure out how to conserve more water, many have began pointing fingers at fracking for using large amounts of water. Fracking is the process that involves pumping water and chemicals under high pressure in order to release oil trapped in rock. They argue that fracking not only uses up water, but also poses risks to the state’s natural resources.

Three weeks ago, a California state panel approved SB 1132, a bill that would place a moratorium on the use of fracking in oil drilling. Fracking proponents say that there’s not enough evidence for such drastic measures - and that fracking is providing important revenue for the state.

In Monterey County, there’s a tiny agricultural town called Lockwood that finds itself at the center of the fracking debate.

“There are people going around and buying up leases either in order to get drilling permits or leases to buy water- they are somebody that is representing an oil company,” says Paula Getzelman, who owns Gatti Vineyards in Lockwood with her husband. “They tend to fly a little bit below the radar. So, it is very difficult to know who and how many they have acquired, because it’s a private sale. They lease the mineral rights to the oil companies.”

Getzelman is one of many residents who spoke with KALW’s Daphne Matziaraki as she reported on fracking in and around Lockwood. Below are the reflections of Lockwood residents, as they with how to deal with the future of fracking.

(Click the audio player above to hear the comments.)

TASSY MARTIN: I work here at the Lockwood store. I have been here for six and half years. It is just this store – Lockwood store. It is the Hub. I would say that everyone comes to the store – the population is 290 persons and it was 240 [people] 22 years ago when I came.

DEBBIE RICHIE: We are in beautiful downtown Lockwood California. We are watching a horse plop. We have 100 square ft divided in squares. Wherever the horse plops, whichever square is, that person wins $500. We are having a chili cook off. This is our second annual. It’s a fundraiser to maintain our community centre.

RENE WRIST: Lockwood has no in between, you love it or you hate it. I love it! I don’t know why. Kids are safe they don’t end up on drugs and dead in their twenties.

CARLA MCGEE: I have lived here full time for the last four years. My husband has had a ranch here for the last fifteen years, we have 160 acres and for me, this is the best place to live for family, for children. Everyone is protected, everyone knows everybody. It is rural America but your children are safe and I lived in San Jose for 6 years and I couldn’t let my grandson go out the front yard. I know my neighbors.

NEIL WHITY: What do I do? Make a little noise, hang around, drink a little bit, that’s about it. Several years ago they, in Haymes valley, they drilled a well that was a surprise to everybody. Nobody knew it was coming. There was mad activity for maybe six weeks. And then they all just packed up and went away. And we were left with this well and pump and has been there ever since. A couple of years ago, they did the same thing almost in the riverbed in the Salinas river – and then they left. So again, we don’t know what happened. Did they not find anything so they went home? Did they find something but they are going to continue to explore?  We just don’t know and they are not required to tell us at this point…

OIL RIG WORKER: I am a rig hand in an oil rig. I have lived in Lockwood of and on for about five years. If there is oil there, there has to be more here. I’ve done a few frack jobs my self. All I know is that you crack the shale to get the oil out.

WRIST: I don’t actually know if they do it here, but I know they have been trying to get it here, for many years. Since my kids were little.

NOLAN BOURGEOIS: I have heard about the fracking stuff. Yes…they do the fracking stuff here in Lockwood…over there, there, it’s all around us. I have seen them set up the rig and tear it down in a couple of different spots that are close to the road. The ones which are not close to the road – who knows what is going on there. But yeah they keep setting up rigs.

CARLA MCGEE: They do fracking, but they don’t do it in Lockwood. They do it out on 101. You’ll see the pumps out there, going toward Paso Robles. I don’t believe these are working oil wells right now but you should see working oil wells on 101. I have not been out there.

DEBBIE RICHIE: I don’t know much about fracking, but I know there is a lot of opposition for it in Lockwood:

PAULA GETZELMAN: Our biggest concern is that the oil companies are not sharing the results of their explorations. They are not required to by law. So what we find is that it is very difficult to determine whether or not they have been fracking in the area, whether their explorations revealed that there is oil worth going after. Another one of our issues is that the bureau of land management has many acres of land off to our east, approximately 15,000 acres were leased to oil companies last December. We don’t have any control over that, the county doesn’t have any control over it because it is federal land. So there are a lot of things that could go this way or could go that way. We don’t know if fracking is coming, but there is so much about fracking that we don’t know, but we want to get ahead of the curve.

There are people going around and buying up leases either in order to get drilling permits or leases to buy water- they tend to fly a little bit below the radar. So, it is very difficult to know who and how many they have acquired. Because it’s a private sale. They lease the mineral rights to the oil companies. I have heard that some of the land on the Avalant ranch has been leased, some of the land on the Porter ranch has been leased. There are indications that other small land owners have gone into negotiations.

WRIST: Frack drilling? Fracking? It scares me. I don’t like fracking. Because it pollutes the water and then the water in turn kills the livestock.

MCGEE: As long as the fracking does not alter the quality of water that we have out here. We have a lot of new vineyards, we have a lot of farming. As long as the fracking does not adjust the water table, or the quality of water, I would like to see us be able to have our own oil.

BARBARA WILLON: And fracking doesn’t bother me either. I am not afraid of it. I think if they can get the oil out of the ground it means that they won’t have to buy it overseas.

OIL RIG WORKER: I think it’s a good idea because it would bring money to the area and it would bring jobs and I believe it’s probably here.  I wouldn’t say it’s more efficient. It’s a longer process, but if you can get the oil, I think it’s a good idea.

WHITY: Fracking will make it easier to get the oil out of the ground. Oh sure it’s been happening here about 80 years now. Has not hurt anybody yet. Has not spoiled anybody’s water. There is nothing wrong with fracking. The economy needs these jobs.

GETZELMAN: It could bring a lot of jobs. The trouble is that previously, people who came to do the jobs, were from Texas or from other oil areas. They didn’t chose local people, which doesn’t really help us that much. And so far as revenue, right now, the agricultural industry in the Salinas valley in Monterey county, is four billion dollars a year, with an other four billion in jobs that are associated with the agricultural industry. We can’t afford to take a chance in wiping that out.

This land means a lot to our kids. This house was their grandparents’ before, and this land was their grandparents’ land. Now we have it and we have developed a vineyard and you know each generation makes something better and develops some more things. That’s when I get emotional, when I’m thinking that this land has been in the family for generations and what if it was degraded to the point that it was of no value – and I am not talking about monetary value.

Our story is not any different from the rest of the people around here. For some of the people the land has been in their families for five or six generations, from the mid 1800s when it was homesteaded. There is an emotional impact and it’s more than the dollars and cents. There is something that lives in the land and why did we come back? It represents a way of life that people are attached to and that way of life could be devastated.

MIKE ALBONIS: I used to work in the post office here – one and only downtown Lockwood. Fracking destroys the land. I am not sure…I don’t know much about it to decide if I like it or not.