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Opinion, Santa Monica, Energy, Tom Elias

Fracking: Sensible Regulation Is The Way To Go

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

Posted Jun. 8, 2013, 9:14 am

Tom Elias / Mirror Columnist

Fears abound as California faces the reality that, besides all its other natural wonders, it sits atop an Arabian-sized oil and natural gas bonanza that can only be exploited via the process of hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

One fear is that when oil drillers insert the mix of water, sand, and chemicals used to force raw petroleum products out of rock formations, they will pollute drinking water supplies and water wells used by farmers atop the Monterey Shale formation. This rich formation, containing an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil, stretches from Monterey and San Benito counties south along the western side of the San Joaquin Valley, roughly parallel to the Interstate 5 freeway.

So far, there is no evidence in California to back the water pollution worries, although questions have been raised near fracking operations in Wyoming.

Another fear is that that Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for two “peripheral tunnels” to help preserve the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers while bringing more water south and aiding endangered species is a Trojan horse. The real purpose, some say, is not to slake the thirst of farmers or Southern and Central California cities, but to provide massive amounts of water for use in fracking.

Then there’s the fear that massive new oil and gas supplies emanating from California might destabilize the world’s economic balance of power, bringing oil prices down as it makes the United States the world’s largest oil producer by 2017. This could wreck economies from the Arab world to Russia and South America, where oil revenues now prop up regimes run by figures like Vladimir Putin and the heirs of Hugo Chavez. If oil prices dropped precipitately, this theory goes, the governing systems of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and many other places could be upset and no one knows what forces might try to bring them down.

None of these fears is the least bit irrational, even if the oil industry steadfastly discounts them and fracking has gone on for years in semi-depleted oil fields here, as well as in states as varied as Virginia and North Dakota. So far, the only fear that has found its way into California courts is the possibility of environmental and water table damage from fracking fluids.

Exploratory drilling in Monterey County was stopped in March when a magistrate judge in San Jose ruled the federal Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act by proceeding without in-depth environmental studies covering effects on everything from water tables to livestock and earthquakes.

Meanwhile, moves to regulate fracking abound in the Legislature, where the most sensible might be one by Democratic Assemblyman Mark Stone of Scotts Valley, which would require companies to disclose the source and amounts of water they use in fracking, as well as getting approval from regional Water Quality Control Boards before disposing of used chemical/water mixes.

Other bills moving through the Legislature aim to halt the entire process up to five years for extensive environmental studies.

But the oil industry strongly opposes any kind of moratorium. “The industry supports a regulatory structure,” a Western States Petroleum Assn. lobbyist told a reporter. “It’s in our best interests that we have disclosure, transparency. But not a moratorium.”

The enormous potential economic impact of all this petroleum might end up overwhelming all environmental concerns. The California Manufacturers and Technology Assn. calls the Monterey Shale a “game changer” that could provide more than 500,000 new jobs in some of the more depressed parts of the state and nation, with billions of dollars in new tax revenues coming to state, local and federal governments.

That means Congress, dollar signs in its eyes and driven by companies that already seek to export fracked natural gas in a liquefied form, might pass legislation to supersede any rules state lawmakers could impose.

The trick here, then, is to exploit the bonanza, but do it in a way that protects existing farms, industry and water supplies. Oil wells and healthy people have coexisted for almost a century in places like Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. Why not also in the Coast Range and the Central Valley?

Which means California should proceed with this, but only if it can do it well and safely.

 

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Comments

Jun. 10, 2013, 2:00:54 pm

Jeff Shields said...

The article failed to clairfy how much water is used in fracking. One recent article stated that 335,000AF would be consumed in 2013 for fracking in California. If true, that is a huge amount of water in a critical dry year like we are experiencing.

Jun. 10, 2013, 7:40:19 pm

Bob said...

More earthquakes due to destabilization, more water pollution from the chemical cocktail that the oil and gas industry won't even tell the ingredients of and the we get to kick the pants of the Arab jerks that hate us to boot? Sounds like a good deal to me. Frack all you like CA and enjoy the consequences.

Jun. 10, 2013, 9:18:44 am

Dr. Tom Williams said...

Yeah fracking has occurred since 1960 in Huntington Beach but the O

Jun. 11, 2013, 1:37:31 pm

N Morris said...

What would happen if there was a moratorium?? Our kids, or their kids might have petroleum resources left to use rather than this generation consume it all. Some executives might not get a mega-bonus this decade. WE might learn to live within our means. Frightful !!

Jun. 11, 2013, 2:55:09 pm

Sjacques said...

You are absolutely right...the sudden concern of getting water finally is just for fracking! They could care less if any water is left to drink!!! The oil is not even for the American citizens...we don't see the oil or lower prices...but the energy companies make mega bucks off of the American citizens back and steal our profits. Of course you have to realize the energy companies aren't the only ones making the monies! What's the hurry all of a sudden in this country? We already have enough oil in this country not to depend on foreign companies BUT THE KEEP USING IT AS A SCARE TACTIC! Some of us are not that naive. Don't think we should be drilling in California at all due the faultline so if there is an earthquake and there is damage we know exactly who is to blame and pay up!!!

Jun. 24, 2013, 9:29:33 pm

Edmund Burke said...

"Sensible regulation'--there's an oxymoron for you. In PA, where they have been fracking for 10 years, you can't get a mortgage or homeowners insurance within 5 miles of a fracking well. Irrevocable destruction of the land and cancer/respiratory diseases are the sound reasons for this. What do you think that does to property values?

Jun. 24, 2013, 9:21:27 pm

Michelle Weiner said...

A lack of health studies makes the statement "Oil wells and healthy people have coexisted for almost a century ....." unsubstantiated. I live next to the largest urban oilfield in the U.S (Inglewood Oilfiled in Los Angleles). I'm concerned about asthma, cancers of all types, and other disease related to oil industry practices. What price are we willing to pay for an oil boom? Will we have the resources to clean-up the mess we have allowed to transpire after the fracking show leaves town?

Jul. 2, 2013, 1:17:08 pm

Charles Fredricks said...

The author seems unaware of a couple facts. 1) (check with Dave Freeman on this) the main justification for fracking is the idea that Natural Gas is a beneficial substitute for oil and gas. Setting aside the issue of water pollution for the moment (don't worry, that's #2), the amount of methane that escapes into the upper atmosphere with the increased used of Natural Gas as a replacement, will be more than enough to offset the Carbon benefits from NG over coal and oil, because methane is a far more destructive greenhouse gas than CO2, and sticks around in the upper atmosphere far longer— so even though it burns cleaner, it ends up doing as much damage to the climate, if not more. 2) While the energy bonanza and economic benefits may be short term, meaning a couple decades or so, the ecological consequences of the inevitable contamination will be long term, meaning generations, centuries, or more. When will we get it out of our heads that the planet is not our personal sandbox, to be dirtied as we please, because we'll be leaving it one day anyway. In choosing to damage the planet faster than it can purify our senseless acts, we are cutting off the branch we are sitting on.

Jul. 2, 2013, 1:19:03 pm

Charles Fredricks said...

The author seems unaware of a couple facts. 1) (check with Dave Freeman on this) the main justification for fracking is the idea that Natural Gas is a beneficial substitute for oil and coal. Setting aside the issue of water pollution for the moment (don't worry, that's #2), the amount of methane that escapes into the upper atmosphere with the increased used of Natural Gas as a replacement, will be more than enough to offset the Carbon benefits from NG over coal and oil, because methane is a far more destructive greenhouse gas than CO2, and sticks around in the upper atmosphere far longer— so even though it burns cleaner, it ends up doing as much damage to the climate, if not more. 2) While the energy bonanza and economic benefits may be short term, meaning a couple decades or so, the ecological consequences of the inevitable contamination will be long term, meaning generations, centuries, or more. When will we get it out of our heads that the planet is not our personal sandbox, to be dirtied as we please, because we'll be leaving it one day anyway. In choosing to damage the planet faster than it can purify our senseless acts, we are cutting off the branch we are sitting on.

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