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Opinion, Santa Monica, Tom Elias

Fracking Rules Must Have Merit; No One Completely Happy

Thomas B. Elias, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Thomas B. Elias, Columnist

Posted Dec. 15, 2013, 9:31 am

Tom Elias / Mirror Columnist

There is little doubt an economic bonanza awaits California beneath the surface of the Monterey Shale, a geologic formation stretching from San Benito County south along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley right into parts of Southern California.

One study put the possible job-creating potential of this oil and gas trove at more than 20,000. For sure, it would spread oil industry jobs far beyond their current centers in Kern County and some coastal areas of the state. Oil reserves said to lurk within rock formations are said to amount to at least 15 billion barrels. Not to mention many millions of therms of natural gas.

So far, not much has been done with this resource, and there’s plenty of dispute over whether anything should be. The potential is obvious: Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, has brought enough oil and gas from similar but smaller formations in Wyoming, the Dakotas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere to turn this country from a big oil importer to a net exporter of petroleum products.

But environmentalists in California worry large-scale fracking of the Monterey Shale and other oilfields previously considered depleted will pollute ground water, foul the air and maybe even cause earthquakes.

That’s why the other day the state Department of Conservation issued a set of proposed new rules aiming, it said, to protect those other resources at the same time it keeps California “productive and competitive.”

The rules, mandated by a compromise law passed last summer, won’t take effect for months and are now open to public comment, with revisions possible.

Once they are in force, two things will be true: California will have America’s toughest set of fracking rules, while both frackers and their opponents will be unhappy. In journalism, there’s an old principle: If folks on all sides of an issue are unhappy with a story, it was probably a pretty good job. That’s because most stories are complicated, filled with gray areas and not all black and white.

That’s also true of fracking.

The practice has made a boom state of North Dakota, once a depressed area. But there have been reports of water pollution from several places and several earthquakes have occurred in far from usual quake country since the technique became common.

Here are a few things California’s proposed new rules would do:

- Force oil companies to apply for permits before fracking and disclose where it will occur, how much water it will use, what chemicals are involved and where waste will eventually be dumped.

- Nearby property owners will be able to have their water wells tested before and after fracking.

- An independent panel of scientists will study risks and make a public report by Jan. 1, 2015.

-  And state water officials will monitor all ground water basins to make sure drinking water is not harmed by fracking.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading fracking critic, says it has mixed feelings about those rules. They’re not a complete moratorium, but they do assure the most thorough study of fracking ever, which ought to lead to sound permitting laws and regulations.

The oil industry has known for at least a year regulations were coming, but didn’t want an outright moratorium. “We’ve been doing it (fracking to get extra oil from wells previously considered depleted) for 60 years and there hasn’t been an incident anywhere in the state,” a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Assn. said. “To have a moratorium would make it even more difficult for California to supply the crude oil it needs.

“But we’ve known regulation was coming. We don’t like it, but we can live with this.”

The bottom line is that neither of these principals is happy with the planned new rules, which aren’t permanent anyway. The real key to this dispute will be the findings of the scientific panel and how all sides interpret them. Until that report arrives about a year from now, everyone involved can only hang onto their positions and hope they are proven right.

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Dec. 16, 2013, 2:18:21 pm

Jerry McCutcheon said...

Fracking has been around for a long time most of the time without incident. However, that fracking was in depleted oil reservoirs or traps and products of that fracking were and are contained within the reservoir or trap. Fracking shale like the Monterey Shale is whole different game. The oil shale is a leaky container which cooked, with heat and pressure, the organic material that was trapped within the shale into oil and gas. Some of that oil and gas leaked out of the shale to form oil reservoirs or oil seeps like the La Bra tar pits. The fracker fracking shale is fracturing an already leaky container in hopes that the residual saturation, oil and gas that did not leak out, is sufficient to warrant the fracking and oil production plus profit. In fracking shale you are shattering the container unlike fracking in oil reservoir or trap. The products of fracking, oil, condensate, gas liquids, gas and fracking fluids will, with time, migrate from the shattered shale to the surface just sure as the sun will comes tomorrow. Fracking shale is like shattering a glass of water on a table and not expecting the table to get wet. Only in your only in your wish full thinking dreams. There are no regulations that can be enforced that will stop the shattered shale from leaking oil and gas; except the total probation of fracking oil shale. Fracking within an oil reservoir is ok so long they do not undertake fracking the trap itself. Once the shale is shattered it will resume leaking oil and gas even more than the shale has leaked in the pasted. That leaking shale oil and gas with time will make farm land unfarmable and turn residential land into a uninhabitable stinking mess. But that is not all: They say that they only recover 2% to 5% of the oil in the shale which means 92% to 95% of the oil at abandonment will be left leak out and surface over eons. If it were me I would sue to make the would be frackers show how it is that they going to contain all of the oil within shattered shale and not some of the oil leak to the surface.

Dec. 15, 2013, 1:05:05 pm

Grey said...

Big Oil always wins. They will lobby and lie and throw millions at legislators and PR and in the end they will do what they want without consequences. The fertile agricultural lands of CA that the nation depends on will be polluted beyond repair. The water tables will not recover in any of our lifetimes. Perhaps that humans are due for a mass extinction of their own doing. Enjoy!

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