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Why Is Alameda County Considering Repealing Its Fracking Ban?

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Excess methane gas flares from the Monterey shale formation near Buttonwillow, California, where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing or fracking, is conducted.  (David McNew/Getty Images)

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors is considering a repeal of the region’s first fracking ban.

Alameda County was the first in the Bay Area to halt high-intensity oil and gas operations back in 2016.

However, county officials believe those regulations may have been invalidated when the California Supreme Court struck down a similar policy in Monterey County last year.

Back in 2016, residents of Monterey County approved Measure Z with 56% of the vote, which prohibited both wastewater injection from oil and gas operations and the drilling of new wells. Community groups pushed for the measure and hoped that it would prevent the use of hydraulic fracturing.

Chevron and other fossil fuel industry companies opposed it and later sued the county, which halted enforcement as the issue worked its way through the court.

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In August of last year, the state Supreme Court in Chevron USA Inc. v. County of Monterey unanimously sided with the industry groups, ruling that state regulators, and not local governments, have the authority to regulate the methods for oil and gas extraction.

Now, supervisors in Alameda County have drafted a repeal of their fracking ban, which outlines a view that, based on the court ruling, the county’s law “is preempted by state law and should be repealed.”

The supervisors were scheduled to debate it on Monday during a planning committee hearing but tabled it without discussion.

Hollin Kretzmann, senior attorney with the Centers for Biological Diversity, said the Monterey County court case has had a “chilling effect for local governments because it’s very unclear after the court case what is allowed and what is not allowed.”

He added that Alameda County’s ordinance is crafted differently from Measure Z and could still be within local control “because fracking has its own provisions in state law.”

“Cities and counties have had decades of oil and gas ordinances on the books, not just Alameda County, but Ventura and Los Angeles,” he said. “All of these [jurisdictions] have had decades worth of regulations. Some banned oil and gas altogether. They are all beginning to take a second look at that.”

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Kretzmann said each of the local ordinances should be evaluated independently.

For that reason, his group sponsored Assembly Bill 3233, a new bill allowing local governments to prohibit oil and gas operations, methods, and locations within their jurisdiction. The bill was introduced last month by Democratic Assemblymember Dawn Addis, whose district includes portions of Monterey County.

In a statement, Addis said that pollution from oil and gas production hurts the health of Californians and harms the environment and climate.

“As California transitions away from its dependency on fossil fuels, more cities and counties have introduced ordinances to ban oil and gas operations,” she said. “Assembly Bill 3233 uplifts the voices of our local communities by codifying their right to enact these policies.”

Alameda County’s fracking ban was always largely symbolic. When it passed back about eight years ago, the county only had one oil generator, E&B Natural Resources, which didn’t use fracking. That operation has since wound down, and there is no active oil and gas drilling in the county. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

But Kretzmann said Alameda County residents would benefit from the assurances of a fracking ban and similar restrictions on high-intensity oil and gas development.

“Taking that off the books after people work so hard to get that in place, understandably makes people nervous about what’s going to happen with the future of Alameda County,” he said.

Statewide, regulators at the Geologic Energy Management Division have issued a draft rule that said they will cease to approve hydraulic fracturing permits.

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