Alameda County Becomes First in Bay Area To Ban Fracking

Pump jacks and wells rise over an oil field on the Monterey Shale formation near McKittrick, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Alameda County is now the first Bay Area county to ban fracking, and supporters say it could have a domino effect across the region and the state.

County supervisors unanimously approved the ban at their Tuesday meeting.

Fracking is the process of extracting oil and gas from the earth using high-pressure water mixtures. Activists have raised concerns that it could cause environmental damage such as groundwater contamination.

"I am deeply relieved that the Board of Supervisors passed the fracking ban," anti-fracking activist Karen White said in a statement issued after Tuesday's vote. "We've taken a step that will protect everyone in Alameda County, especially our children and grandchildren, from toxic chemicals."

The county’s lone oil generator, E&B Natural Resources, doesn’t use the controversial oil extraction technique in Alameda County, and company leaders said they don't plan to. But supporters say the ban is both preventative and symbolic of the county’s stance on environmental issues.

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The ban comes after the county reached a compromise with E&B.

The company raised concerns that a draft version of the ordinance would make it difficult to dispose of wastewater and to use dilute acid in routine maintenance, and would make it costly and difficult to prove it didn't violate the new rules.

E&B declined to comment on the Alameda County ban.

Supervisor Wilma Chan said that as more counties adopt bans, the state Legislature could face increased pressure to stop fracking statewide, even as Gov. Jerry Brown has said he doesn't support outlawing the practice.

“The Legislature, which represents different areas that have banned fracking, will pay attention to this,” Chan said.

According to Food and Water Watch’s Ella Teevan, the ban in Alameda County is part of a larger cooperative movement across the state that has a clear end game.

“In the immediate term, [the bans] are protecting local residents' water and their health,” Teevan said. “In the long term, they’re building momentum and building power of folks across the state who are saying, 'We won’t settle for anything less than a ban,' and that’s really going to be a huge thing to show the governor.”

Alameda is the state's fifth county to outlaw fracking. Voters in Monterey County will decide on a possible ban this November.