Fracking California: Oil Boom Bonanza a Dirty Desert Mirage

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The latest target of the unconventional oil craze is California hydraulic fracturing (fracking) the Monterey Shale in the central and southern parts of the state. With wildly optimistic predictions of an economic bonanza, the oil is carbon-intensive, requires massive amounts of fresh water, creates industrial pollution and seismic risk, and is impossible to regulate because of significant scientific unknowns and bureaucratic inefficiency. Time to move toward a clean energy economy. Peg Mitchell elaborates.

hydraulic fracturing fracking California

The dirty, dangerous truth about over-hyped oil fracking in California: The San Ardo field, whose bobbing pump jacks push up against Highway 101 between King City and San Luis Obispo, is as dirty as Canadian tar sands. Photo: Loco Steve in Wikipedia.

Rosy Fracking Predictions Disputed

By Peg Mitchell, Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune

California’s Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) recently held public comment sessions for draft regulations on hydraulic fracturing. At the Long Beach hearing, most comments opposed the practice outright, while the few who commented favorably did so from the economic perspective, citing the numerous jobs unleashing the Monterey Shale oil will create.

U.S. officials cut estimate of recoverable Monterey Shale oil by 96%  — LA Times

Much of the optimistic economic news comes from a 2013 USC report that maintains developing the Monterey Shale could, by 2020, “increase California’s GDP by 14%, provide an additional 2.8 million jobs and provide $24.6 billion per year in additional tax revenue.” This report, combined with an optimistic U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast of 15.4 billion barrels of “recoverable tight oil” in the Monterey Shale, gives the appearance California will soon be the country’s dominant energy producer.

The Myth of Economic Prosperity From Fracking California

California, hydraulic fracturing

Fracking has already taken place in several California counties, with companies targeting the massive Monterey Shale rock formation that stretches from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. Source: CNN.

But a more recent study, “Drilling California: A Reality Check on the Monterey Shale,” tells quite a different story. Commissioned by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) and The Post Carbon Institute, geologist J. David Hughes analyzed in detail both the geological characteristics of the Monterey Shale field along with oil production rates. This is the first analysis conducted with actual Monterey oil production data as opposed to assumptions based on oil production in Texas and North Dakota. That analysis was used to assess the credibility of the USC study.

“Energy decisions have implications that last for decades,” said Craig Lewis, executive director, Clean Coalition. ”As this [Drilling California] report clearly lays out, fracking California’s Monterey shale poses significant economic and environmental risks that persist for multiple lifetimes.”  — From EcoWatch

Hughes’ in-depth analysis reveals that given the folded, faulted and fractured nature of the shale and the small geographic area it covers, it cannot be compared to the tight oil fields in North Dakota and Texas. Existing production is from discreet reservoirs, not the widespread areas envisaged by the EIA, and current well productivity is much lower than typical wells in the best tight oil fields. As a result only a small fraction of what the EIA projects is likely to ever be recovered. Additionally, given these low production rates, among other factors, the number of wells needed to achieve the USC study’s production assumptions is unattainable. For example, to reach the economic benefits claimed by 2030 USC projects needing only 4,112 wells while in reality, based on actual production data, it would likely require several tens of thousands of wells, not even feasible given the constrained acreage of the formation.

Fracking, Drought, and Offshore Pollution

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency in our state. Fracking takes water, lots of it, and it isn’t reusable once polluted. And that toxic water, once brought back up out of the well, has to go somewhere. Last year it was discovered fracking is taking place offshore in Santa Barbara and the polluted water is being dumped into the ocean. Moreover, detailed maps of the location and extent of the shale field show that it lies both onshore and offshore San Diego all the way to the border. Beach cities, beware.

“Oil companies are fracking California’s beautiful coastal waters with dangerous chemicals, and federal officials seem barely aware of the dangers,” said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney and ocean program director at the Center For Biological Diversity. “We need an immediate halt to offshore fracking before chemical pollution or an oil spill poisons the whales and other wildlife that depend on California’s rich coastal waters.”  — Truth-Out.org

Clean Tech: The Future of California’s Economy

Fracking California is not smart nor necessary. If one is truly interested in economic opportunities for our state, one need only look at the job growth in the clean tech sector: true clean tech, not jobs touted by the oil industry as “indirect.” According to a Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program report, “Sizing the Clean Economy,” California ranks first among states in overall size of its “clean economy” with job growth of 4.2 percent between 2003 and 2010. California’s own Economic Development Department indicates there are more than 500,000 “clean” jobs in the state. According to a Next10 report, the core clean tech sector had a stronger recovery from the recession with a 2.8 percent increase in jobs vs. an overall 2.3 percent decrease between 2008 and 2011. These are good jobs, with a median wage of $46,400.

We don’t need the dirty oil fracking extracts, nor should we endure the impact of industrial pollution, added seismic risk and unjustified water consumption, while jeopardizing our AB32 [Global Warming Solutions Act] climate targets purely for the jobs.

It’s a fool’s folly to bank on fossil fuels for fueling our economy. Given our dwindling, increasingly more expensive water supply and the grim climate change future, we must put every bit of human and financial capital now into transitioning as fast as possible to a non-fossil-fuel-based economy. The technologies exist. But our short-term thinking will spell long-term catastrophe if we aren’t prepared for a post-carbon economy soon.

Peg Mitchell is with SanDiego350.org and is leader of the North San Diego County chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.

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WilderUtopia.com regularly posts articles, photo essays, features, and documentaries from around the web that illuminate the challenges to coexistence between city and wild, developed and developing, human and other.