Guest blog: Fracking in Southern California

 

Shale wells in Los Angeles

By Tina Reed Johnson
Fracking is a hot topic. Experts say that if fracking is used (more widely) in California, it would make the state the nation’s largest producer of oil at 15 billion barrels.  Naturally, the State of California would like to take advantage of this resource and create jobs, but many are hesitant because of potential environmental hazards.

I think most people understand that fracking has something to do with drilling, and may have heard that it is fiercely contested by many, including major celebrities in New York.  But what is fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing is the proper term for a fairly new process being implemented in current drilling practices.  The purpose is to extract natural gas or oil from rock far below the surface of the ground with horizontal drilling.  A solution of sand, water, and chemicals are injected under high pressure to hold open fractured areas in the rock.   A general guideline of 90% water, 9.5% sand, and .5% chemicals are used in order for gas or oil to be extracted and sent to the surface.
Environmental concerns include chemicals polluting groundwater, chemical spills, chemicals rising to the surface of the ground, water waste, greenhouse gasses, air pollution, excess traffic, noise and vibration, and seismic activity (potential earthquakes).  It is important to note that thousands, and potentially millions, of gallons of water are used in the fracking process.  The types and amounts of chemicals used depend largely upon the type of rock where the reserve is found.

On February 12, 2013, I attended a Ventura, California, Chamber of Commerce meeting on the topic of hydraulic fracturing.   The purpose of the meeting was to determine the Chamber’s position on fracking in Ventura.  Bob Wilson, Geologist and Senior Project Manager/Field Supervisor at AECOM, and David Ossentjuk, attorney at Musick, Peeler & Garrett LLP were presenters.

This is what I learned about some larger concerns which need to be addressed.
1.  There are currently no laws or regulations which require companies to disclose whether they are using fracking methods.

Legislation is currently being discussed by key stakeholders with a discussion draft of regulations.  Three State public fracking workshops are being held in 2013 for information-gathering purposes.  The first workshop was held on February 19 in Los Angeles, the second on March 13 in Bakersfield, and the third were held on March 21 in Sacramento.  In addition, several  joint informational Senate hearings were held in February and March.
To quote Steve Offerman, of Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett’s office, “California needs to adopt best management practices.  We are behind the curve and don’t need to be.”

2.  Companies currently abide by trade secrets, and are not required to disclose ingredients or chemicals that are used in fracking. Only in the case of a spill or medical emergency is full disclosure required.  Trade secrets will then be divulged and ingredients given to medical doctors and for spill management.  Ingredients are not available to the public at this time.
President Obama declared in the 2012 State of the Union address that he will require oil and natural gas drilling companies to disclose chemicals they use in fracking on public and Indian lands.  “Because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”

3.  Hydraulic fracturing is exempt from the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and other Federal environmental regulations.  This was not specifically addressed at this meeting to my knowledge.

4.  The State of California Department of Conservation Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal (DOGGR) is tasked to implement legislation regulating fracking, but also to maximize hydrocarbons by promoting the oil and gas industry.  How can they comply with a dual mandate?  Should we take their word that they are doing a good job?  Whatever happened to oversight?
A vote was held by Ventura Chamber members and a motion passed to support DOGGR’s process in a non-partisan approach to establishing regulations.   The chamber is not taking a position pro or con hydraulic fracturing  at this time.  As a side note, this motion was drafted by a representative of the Western States Petroleum Association.
No one would debate that drilling needs to be conducted in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.  But the safeguards and laws necessary to make this happen are missing.  As with any new process that may affect the public, guidelines and regulations need to be established for control and accountability.  It will be important to see what takes place in the next six to nine months.

The oil industry emphasizes that the fracking process is not a new drilling process, but one implemented in current processes.  And also that it is simply one of many methods of extracting resources.  These distinctions don’t make me feel any better about fracking instead of using clean energy sources like solar.

Although the Ventura area is rich in oil and natural gas, it does not mean that the resources need to be extracted and used simply because they are available.   If there were no other energy sources then perhaps we wouldn’t have a choice, but that isn’t the case.

Instead of tapping into non-renewable energy sources like oil and natural gas, we should be focusing our efforts on unlimited energy sources like the sun and wind.   Demands for energy are only increasing with population growth.  It is time to develop smart plans for long-term energy use for the planet.

Tina Reed Johnson is a Web marketing consultant in Ventura, California.  She is on the Ventura Chamber Green Task Force, which helps businesses to become more sustainable.  Tina has worked for the Cheetah Conservation Fund and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.  She invites you to engage on her Google Plus and Facebook Environmental Issues / Impact pages!

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