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Time for change

Fossil fuel-based economies are moving toward renewable—and that's a good thing

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Chalk up Al Fonzi's pining for times gone by to when Jimmy Stewart movies of gushing Gulf oil derricks fueled his teenage dreams ("I like fossil fuels and nuclear power," March 15). This thinking exemplifies how native intelligence does not necessarily translate into common sense. In his passion for fossil and nuclear energy, Al conveniently ignores or dismisses 50 years of cumulative scientific evidence that greenhouse gases have triggered a rapid acceleration of global climate change, which has resulted in melting glaciers and polar caps, rising sea levels, extreme weather including tropical storms and hurricanes (Harvey, Maria, Irma), unprecedented drought, massive wildfires, acidification of ocean waters, and a beginning tsunami of climate precipitated migration of millions of people around the planet. And add to it that dirty little issue of nuclear waste. I'm not saying civilization as we know it will end soon, simply that our environmental systems are hemorrhaging as a result of fossil fuel use.

And no Al, these facts are not the ravings of alarmists or futurecasting academics based on questionable data. These are bona fide, objective, empirical facts. Al, your buddies at Exxon and the American Petroleum Institute knew this was going to happen in the 1960s. Their own scientists told them that the continued consumption of fossil fuels would put so much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere that it could trigger massive climate change in the next 40 to 50 years. Guess what Al? It did!

And what did Exxon and the API do in the 1960s with the new scientific information that their fossil fuel-based economy was ultimately a self-destructive one? They began a multi-million-dollar propaganda campaign to cover up the facts and assert that climate change was a myth. Your letter, Al, is clear proof that the marketing campaign worked and that the myth is still alive, jet-fueled by those who have a financial interest in fossil fuels, work for the oil industry, or those in denial of the factual reality facing us as a species.

We are at a great crossroads in human civilization—it's the transition from the fossil fuel-based energy system of the 20th century to the renewable and solar-based energy system of the 21st century. All objective, rational, clear thinking scientists, business persons, politicians, and citizens of every social class, race, ethnicity, and sex understand this—especially younger persons.

There is a group of San Luis Obispo County residents offering focus on this crossroads by promoting a ballot initiative for the November elections that will ban new oil wells in the county, while allowing existing operations in the Arroyo Grande oil field to continue. This initiative will help conserve and protect our precious water resources, will reduce the risks of earthquakes, will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, will conserve local oil resources for future generations in case they need them, and will do a small part in slowing global climate change.

The Coalition to Protect San Luis Obispo County is gathering signatures for its ballot measure petition to ban new oil wells in the areas of the unincorporated county. The coalition needs 13,000 signatures by April 30 to place this issue on the November ballot. Driving this movement are the dual concerns of threats to groundwater quantity and quality coupled with the threat of fracking (hydraulic fracturing).

Beginning with groundwater, on the quantitative side is the large consumption of local water by the Arroyo Grande oil field. For every barrel of oil produced, 22 barrels of water are produced from the ground. At current extraction rates of 1,000 barrels of oil per day that equals 924,000 gallons of water. Sentinel Peak Energy, the current owner/operator has plans to expand production by an additional 481 wells, which will produce 10,000 barrels per day of oil and 220,000 barrels per day of water. This sort of impact on potable groundwater resources in a very small area is unheard of in our county, with possible unknown and unintended serious consequences. The aquifer underlying the oil field is designated as one with potential beneficial use by the federal Safe Water Drinking Act.

Currently about 15 percent of oil production and wastewater, with concentrated petroleum and added chemical enhancements, are injected into deep aquifers adjacent to the Santa Maria water basin. At full production, this could equal 1.3 million gallons per day of re-injected waste. The potential impacts of this on Santa Maria basin water quality, which underlies the Five Cities, is unknown, nor is there apparently much detailed understanding of the underlying hydrology of the deeper interfaces of geological strata, their permeability, or the subsurface migration of groundwater.

The initiative would prevent this dangerous expansion of oil extraction and injection of toxic oilfield waste into a drinking water aquifer. And Al, none of this local oil is used in the U.S. It gets exported to Asia! In fact, the big boom in U.S. oil production brought about by fracking has resulted in billions of barrels of U.S. oil being shipped overseas. For example, in 2016 the U.S. was shipping 10,000 barrels of oil per day to China, and by October 2017 that was up to 131,000 barrels per day. If all that oil was kept in the U.S., its price would be so cheap that Big Oil would not be making its Big Profits, and I don't think Al would like that.

The Protect SLO County initiative would also prevent the beginning of fracking in SLO County, a vulnerability we have because we overlie the Monterey Shale formation, one of the largest petroleum deposits in the U.S. Fracking is one of the only methods to extract this petroleum and, once it starts, it is almost impossible to stop.

Bottom line Al, it's good to remember that we need Earth. She does not need us. Δ

Charles Varni is advocating for change. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write down your thoughtful opinions and email them to letters@newtimesslo.com.


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