This is a guest post by Tara Lohan that originally appeared on Faces Of Fracking, a project of the CEL Climate Lab in partnership with Grist that was launched to capture the stories of concerned residents who live on the front lines of fracking.
Of all the things that could threaten Paul Hain’s livelihood, squirrels are near the top of the list. And then there are the oil companies.
Last year, squirrels gorged themselves on 14 of Paul’s 20 acres of walnut trees. And oil companies have been eyeing his bucolic corner of California recently with a project in the works that may result in hundreds of new wells that use energy- and water-intensive production methods to coax viscous petroleum to the surface.
I visited Paul’s farm, Hain Ranch Organics, in the small hamlet of Tres Pinos five miles south of Hollister in San Benito County on a September morning during the walnut harvest. A worker drove a sweeper (which looks a lot like a riding mower) through the lines of trees to wind row the nuts so they’re easier to harvest.
Over the hum of the machine, Paul told me that much of this orchard was here when he was born 60 years ago. At the time the place belonged to his grandparents. It was first built around 1905 by his great-grandfather Schuyler Hain, his first relative to arrive in the area in the late 1800s.
Over the course of his life Paul has seen San Benito grow and change … in some ways. He remembers the first stop light in Hollister arriving around the late 1960s as the population began to rise, but the view from his family home is not wildly different than it was when he was a kid. San Benito is a mostly rural county of 55,000 people who live among rolling hills nestled in California’s Central coast region — 100 miles south of San Francisco and 25 miles inland from the Pacific.
San Benito County has a lot of organic agriculture, ranches, and wineries. The county’s most famous attraction is Pinnacles, which got a promotion from a National Monument to a National Park in 2012. It’s a playground of caves and towering rock formations sculpted from a long-deceased volcano. The park’s also home to falcons and condors, and has a rich cultural history, with both the Chalon and Mutsun tribes calling it home.
Quiet San Benito is not the place you’d expect to be the center of a big political fight, but this election season that’s how things are shaping up. On November 4, voters here will get a chance to weigh in on whether or not the county should pass Measure J — a ballot initiative that would ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking), cyclic steam injection, and acidizing in the county. These are three ways oil companies try to access harder to reach oil deposits now that the easy stuff is gone. They’re often referred to as “high-intensity petroleum operations.”