On November 15, the State released its first draft of regulations on fracking, acidizing and other risky oil and gas drilling processes. The Department of Conservation (DOC) is accepting public comments until January 14, 2014 as part of the rulemaking process. The State is also
launching an environmental impact report (EIR) to examine the risks of fracking in California and is taking suggestions for what to study. Over the coming weeks, there are many opportunities to have your voice heard in Sacramento and across the state. Click here to read more about what you can do.
Clean Water Action is working to protect California from the dangers of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Across the country, communities are suffering from health and environmental impacts related to fracking including: contaminated drinking water and polluted air, degradation of local waterways, and decreased property values. In most states, fracking operations are designed to extract natural gas reserves. In California, it’s all about oil.
California has the largest shale oil play in the nation- the Monterey Shale. It spans much of the Central Valley and the Central Coast along with Los Angeles. It lies below most of the sources of drinking water for Central Valley residents and contains 15 billion barrels of oil that have historically been too difficult to extract. Until now.
Using new technologies, such as fracking, acid stimiulation and other well stimulation techniques, oil companies such as Venoco, Occidental, and PXP plan to make California the biggest on-shore oil producing state in the nation. We need to ensure that these oil and gas recovery techniques, do not pollute our water, degrade our air, or damage our communities. Clean Water Action is working to enact a moratorium on fracking in California until the state determines whether fracking can be done without harming our communities and the environment
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is a method of extracting natural gas and oil trapped inside shale or other rock formations. Oil and gas companies drill deep into the earth often through aquifers containing groundwater. Then they inject vast amounts of water mixed with chemicals and often sand at high pressure to fracture the rock around the well to release the oil or gas.
Across the country there have been numerous environmental and community costs associated with fracking, including contaminated waterways and groundwater, air pollution, and earthquakes potentially caused by the underground disposal of wastewater. Yet, despite these serious threats fracking is exempt from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. It is also largely unregulated in California.
Fracking has an especially high impact on water resources because most contaminated wastewater from fracking is removed from the water cycle. However, companies like Venoco and Occidental have plans to significantly ramp up fracking in California to make the California the largest source of on-shore oil production in the country in the next 10 years. With 35 million people and the largest agricultural industry in the U.S., there is simply not enough water to accommodate such high levels of water usage for oil and gas drilling in California.
The Central Valley, where the majority of fracking is taking place, is already under major pressure from contaminated drinking water sources.
Nitrate contamination, for example, from agriculture is a major threat to many communities’ drinking water sources. According to a recent UC Davis report, over 2 million Californians may not have access to a reliable source of safe drinking water, as groundwater contamination is a major problem throughout the state. Any increase in groundwater contamination is unacceptable and will only put more pressure on California’s shrinking water resources.
Wastewater from fracking operations in California is often disposed of into underground injection wells deep beneath the surface of the earth. These wells, know as Class II injection wells, are regulated under the US EPA Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program. They are often in close proximity to or pass through underground sources of water used for drinking and agriculture. While industry claims that underground injection of fracking wastewater is safe, the EPA has criticized California’s implementation of the UIC program and monitoring of Class II wells. In particular, the report criticizes the Division of Oil and Gas Resources (DOGGR) one size fits all risk assessment for protection of waterways.
In a seismically active region such as California, there is increased risk of well-casing failure and the possibility of wastewater transport through faults into aquifers. In addition, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that fluids injected deep into the earth can migrate over time, potentially entering underground sources of drinking water DOGGR recently disclosed, in public workshops held in June and July 2012, that the UIC program has had a 4-10% well casing failure rate.
Since DOGGR does not require disclosure of wastewater disposal, the public does not know the fate of most fracking wastewater in California. Besides underground injection, drilling companies sometimes dispose of wastewater into open-air pits, where the dangerous chemicals can off-gas, creating air quality problems, or discharge into waterways, threatening drinking water sources and habitats. Under the Clean Water Act, any discharged water into waterways must be treated, however most water treatment plants are not equipped to handle the types and volume of wastewater from fracking. Without disclosure from frackers of wastewater disposal, the state does not know the extent to which these different methods are employed, and if it has lead to any problems, as detected in other states.
California’s Central Valley, home to 4 million Californians, has the highest level of particulate matter and ozone pollution in the United States and the asthma rate is three times the national average, according to the American Lung Association. Deep shale drilling is known to release significant levels of methane gases and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) that cause smog and lead to respiratory problems, and cancer causing air toxics such as benzene and arsenic.
The oil and gas industry is the single largest producer of methane gas in the U.S., accountable for approximately 40% of all methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas, 20 times more potent than CO2. In addition to the emissions from drilling, large numbers of trucks are used to transport chemicals to each drill site and wastewater away from each drill site, causing significant increases in particulate and smog-forming pollutants. The air pollution and health problems that result from fracking is a cost that Central Valley residents cannot afford to pay.
Despite the grave dangers associated with fracking, there is very little regulation of fracking and other oil and gas extraction methods in California. In fact, California lags behind almost every other state where fracking occurs in protecting local communities. As one of the largest oil and gas producing states, with approximately 60,000 oil and gas wells, California’s lack of regulation puts local communities at serious risk. In California,
As recently as 2011, DOGGR claimed that no fracking was happening in CA in a letter to State Senator Pavley. At a series of public workshops held in June 2012, however, DOGGR now states that approximately 700 wells per year are fracked in California and DOGGR reports that underground injection well failures range from 4-10%.
As a result of DOGGR’s failure to regulate adequately the oil and gas industry, neither the state nor the public knows where fracking is taking place, how much water is used, and what chemicals are used, and the agency does not ensure that the disposal of toxic fracking wastewater is safe. California must implement measures to protect its communities from harm from fracking and other drilling operations. Until there is adequate regulation in place, the state must put fracking operations on hold.
Until these and numerous other concerns are addressed, fracking should not happen in California. Until an independent review has determined that fracking can cause no harm, there should be a moratorium.