You may (or may not) have heard the rumors.
Hydraulic fracturing has come to California.
Yep. Our geologically delicate, ecologically rich, water-needy, coastal state is preparing for fracking.
I’m no fool, I realize there’s lots of oil to be harvested in California. And I know it won’t be the first time California has faced the rush and consequences that come with the output of natural resources. Gold mining, clear-cut logging and over hunting all supersede fracking and we’re working toward recovering from these incidences. The sea otter population can come back, clear cut forests can be rehabilitated and the ghost towns left behind by gold prospectors can be memorialized. But what exactly are the consequences of fracking for oil?
Or…what is fracking?
First things first. Oil and gas require slightly different fracking methods. Gas wells created by fracking can be “re-fracked” if you will several times. Oil wells – just once. Almost all of the research done on the consequences of hydraulic fracturing involves gas wells.
Fracking for oil begins with a well drilled 6,000-7,000 feet deep that then continues horizontally along shale formations. Explosives are then set off within the well, causing the rock around the well to fracture. Further fracturing the rock involves forcing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, chemical compounds (many unidentified by the companies due to their status as ‘trade secrets’) and natural gasses or sand into newly drilled wells. This mixture is commonly referred to as fracking fluid, and many corporations insist they recycle 95% of the produced water (water now polluted with chemicals). How they manage to do so, I’m not sure. Once the produced water is removed from the well, production begins.
Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, there are several issues involving fracking specific to California. Our earthquake-sensitive state could be endangered by the use of explosives and high-pressure streams of fluid being set off thousands of feet below the surface. And because companies employing fracking methods are not required to give local governments (state or otherwise) fair warning as to their activities, how can Californians be sure these companies have done the research necessary to avoid sensitive fault areas? Fracking is also unmanaged by the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act or the Clean Air Act.
Sounds about as un-Californian as an operation can get.
Most of California’s water is snow melt off from the Sierras or groundwater. The produced water left over from fracking isn’t always stored so properly. Take a look at how it’s being stored in Pennsylvania:
If antifreeze can seep out of septic tanks and into groundwater, just imagine what’s happening to the earth surrounding the plastic-lined “pond”.
Central California is home to some of the most beautiful spaces in our state.
Monterey. Big Sur. Santa Cruz. The end of the redwood range (or the beginning, depending how you look at it), countless vineyards. The condor, elephant seal and sea otter all make their homes here and are all recovering species. Why not demand to know what sort of effects fracking could have on their habitats?
Because fracking is monitored solely by its employers. That’s right: the people using fracking for profit are the ones doing the research and releasing their findings. There is no one holding them accountable and Jerry Brown isn’t getting involved.
Californians need to stand up and defend what is theirs. Most fracking goes on on public land managed by the BLM. We all have a say in how this land is used because it’s ours. We pay for it. Urge your local government to consider placing strict restrictions on fracking. If it’s really not that bad for the environment and people involved, the corporations using this method should be flexible.
So let’s stretch them.