The gas and petroleum industries have already invaded California with an extremely destructive technology, hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Fracking is used by oil and gas companies to rework aging or abandoned oil wells. It’s also used to drill new wells and capture deep, previously untapped oil and natural gas deposits.
Fracking has been used in California without clear regulatory oversight for decades. In a 2002 study, the California Environmental Protection Agency reported that in 1995, the estimated total volume of the state’s drilling waste, both liquid and solid, was more than 1.8 million barrels. This is enough to cover more than 235 acres one foot deep. In 2011, onshore oil and gas wells created more than 2.5 trillion barrels of wastewater contaminated with toxic chemicals.
As Vice President, Dick Chaney pushed through the 2005 energy bill that exempted the oil and gas companies from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Toxics Release Inventory, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The newest fracking technology involves drilling and then blasting a mix of chemicals, water and sand from eight to 11,000 feet underground. There are more than 596 chemicals in that mix. We can’t know what all the chemicals are because many of them are protected from scrutiny as “trade secrets.”
The fracking fluids and sand are pumped underground at a high enough pressure to fracture the rock surrounding the old well or the new well being drilled. The oil and/or gas is freed by the new fractures in the rock and collected . Fracking fluids include corrosion inhibitors, drilling additives, biocides, shale control inhibitors, liquid breaker aids and many other toxic chemicals. After the initial fracking, some of the fluids are brought back up and stored in waste pits above ground. The rest is injected back underground into old wells.
These fluids can contain, according to Food and Water Watch, benzene, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, radium 226 and other toxics. Naphthalene, benzene and acrylamide are just a few of the known carcinogens identified in fracking fluids. Other toxic chemicals present in many fracking fluids include toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes and ethylene glycol. These can cause nervous system, liver and kidney problems. Approximately 25 percent of fracking chemicals could cause cancer, according to scientists with the Endocrine Disruption Exchange.
Completing a new well uses from one to 1.7 million gallons of water. Each time an existing well is refracked, an additional one to 1.7 million gallons of water is needed. One well can be fracked as many as 18 times. Californians need to ask where all this water is going to come from. Could it be taken from the proposed peripheral canal?
Each new well completion requires 1,150 truck trips. This includes 400-600 tanker truck trips for hauling water and fracking fluids. Another 20-25 trips for hauling fracking sand particles are also needed. Finally, another 200-300 tanker truck trips are necessary to remove the flowback (processed) water. More trips are needed for infrastructure, such as pipes, machinery, construction materials, etc.
Only half of the water and toxic chemical mix comes back up as processed water. The rest stays in the ground indefinitely. It can contaminate aquifers and water wells in neighboring lands by leaking through the fractures made during the original drilling and fracking.
This has already happened in Colorado, Pennsylvania, New York and other states. Readers can watch the documentary Gasland to learn more about fracking’s consequences.
The processed water that comes back up is full of the same toxic soup as the water left in the wells. It’s being stored above ground in lined pools or injected back into old retired wells. Food and Water Watch estimates that between 1995 and 2009, oil and gas companies created 5,659 acre feet of toxic drilling waste in California.
Companies began fracking in sparsely populated states including New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Wyoming. Next, they moved into the Southern states — Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana. They drilled 450,000 wells in the West, Midwest and South. Then they moved East and have proposed drilling 50,000 wells along a 75-mile stretch of the Delaware River. They also proposed hundreds of thousands more wells across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
Fracking threatens California’s public health with water pollution. In 1987, a US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) study found that gel used in fracking operations in West Virginia contaminated a well. Scientific assessment of other cases of possible water well contamination were interfered with by court settlements that sealed the cases’ information from public scrutiny.
The USEPA released a study in December 2011. It concluded, “The data indicates likely impact to groundwater that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing.”
Drilling and fracking have also caused serious local and regional air pollution in the US. After fracking, when some of the fluids come back out of the well, many of the gases, including methane, are vented into the atmosphere. This happens while the flowback liquids are poured into the holding pools or pumped back into old wells.
The oil and gas companies have their eyes on California’s natural gas fields that lie beneath the watershed of the Sacramento River. They also covet more that lie below the highly populated San Joaquin, Santa Maria, Ventura and Los Angeles basins. These contain most of the state’s oil fields.
In 2011, 2,294 new wells were drilled in California, and 3,376 notices were filed for the reworking of existing wells. These numbers will increase. Nine California counties have already been documented as having fracking operations in them. They are Colusa, Glenn, Kern, Los Angeles, Monterey, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Sutter and Ventura Counties.
The newest generation of fracking technology uses more fluid and chemicals injected at a much higher pressure. It will create more waste, pollution and seismic risk. When processed water is pumped back into injection wells to deep porous rock, it can flow in every direction -including into and around earthquake faults. The added pressure and lubrication of these faults by the processed water could cause normally stable faults to slip, causing more earthquakes.
In the Midwest, the number of earthquakes has increased from 50 in 2009 to 134 in 2011. In a study, US government scientists said this increase is “almost certainly” man-made and may be caused by wastewater from oil and gas drilling. The danger here in California with its many faults is far worse. We have two nuclear power plants sitting over, or adjacent to, known earthquake faults.
There has been little or no scrutiny by state regulators. California maintains no information about which wells have been fracked, when they were fracked or what chemicals were used. This is due to the fact that there are no regulations requiring the reporting and disclosure of this information. There aren’t any consistent and comprehensive regulations in place.
The California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Resources (DOGGR) has been assigned by the California legislature to draft fracking regulations. There was a pre-rulemaking draft workshop in Sacramento on March 21, 2013 which lasted eight and a half hours. Attendees learned that, under the proposed regulations, that companies will only have to give three day’s advance notice of fracking operations on an internet website.
People whose lands are adjacent to the proposed fracking site will not get any personal notice. There will be no disclosure of the “trade secret” protected fracking fluids’ formula to the public. After a spill has happened, only agencies and officials dealing with the consequences of a spill will be given information by the company responsible. “Trade secret” information disclosed to regulators and medical personnel must be maintained as confidential and not released to the public under the proposed regulations. Information about the proposed regulations will be available at www.conservation.ca.gov.
California Governor Jerry Brown said on March 13, 2013 that California should consider the use of fracking technology to develop its massive shale oil reserves and reduce it dependence on imported oil.
What can we do?
Another action is writing to your state senator and assembly member and urging them to support State Senator Fran Pavley’s bill, SB 4. Her bill would “require an independent scientific study on fracking addressing occupational, public and environmental health and safety be conducted by January 1, 2015.” It would also “require the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothernal Resources to adopt fracking regulations by January 1, 2015 that include full disclosure of the composition and disposition of hydraulic fracturing fluids with trade secret protection for chemical formulas extended to industry.”
Readers can see the bill here; it's set for hearing in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water on April 9, 2013.
Writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper and talking with your friends and neighbors about fracking are also positive steps you can take.