Paula Getzelman and her neighbors in the Southern Monterey County Rural Coalition have three tasks on their agenda:
1. Combat the aggressive yellow star-thistle weed that is invading vineyards. 2. Add a bike lane to the gravel road that leads to their homes.
3. Learn more about the secretive fracking operations going on over the hill.
That last item is proving thornier than any noxious weed or road expansion. New neighbors aren't common here, but gas companies are moving into California's vast central stretches in the hopes of turning the state's Monterey Shale into the next Marcellus Shale.
They're riding a national wave of gas production that has made its way west to California, a complicated energy-producing state that's home to the environmentalist Sierra Club and was the setting for the oil- and greed-drenched movie "There Will Be Blood." This new gas production is still preliminary -- think Pennsylvania, circa 2004 -- but it has left Mrs. Getzelman and her neighbors looking for answers, or at least for the questions they should be asking.
"We just want to make sure that progress doesn't leave us in the dust," she said.
In Pennsylvania and across the country, hydraulic fracturing technology has opened up reserves of shale oil and natural gas that were once thought inaccessible. Some, like the Marcellus, are gas-rich, while others like the Monterey are primarily oil-based. The Monterey Shale lies under the same parts of central California that saw oil drilling in the early 20th century and which the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates may still hold 15.4 billion barrels of oil.