May 30 2013

Counterpunch: California’s Fracking Frenzy

Newswire | Published 30 May 2013, 11:15 am | Comments Off on Counterpunch: California’s Fracking Frenzy -

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California’s Gold Rush may have ended well over a century and a half ago, but there are new prospectors in town and these suits aren’t toting tattered tents and rusty old pans. Instead the new Golden State pioneers employ geologists and lease expensive extraction equipment. Yet, in many ways it is still the Wild West out here in the land of sun and sea, and many are hoping to strike it rich.

Fracking, or the act of blasting a mix of water, sand and chemicals underground to force oil or natural gas to the surface, is sweeping the Golden State. Currently fracking operations are taking place in nine California counties and many are worried it’s just the beginning. While opposition to fracking in Wyoming, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania gains momentum, critics of the process in California are just now gearing up for what looks like a long fight ahead—a battle certain to be fraught with industry lies, flawed science and old-fashion fossil-fueled greed.

Opponents argue that uncontrolled fracking emits large amounts of methane and other air pollutants and undermines efforts to head off catastrophic climate change. They also cite numerous instances across the country where groundwater supplies have been contaminated by nearby fracking operations. Additionally, in a place like California where water wars are already intense, fracking could accelerate the crisis—for example, a single horizontal well can use more than 5 million gallons per frack.

At the heart of fracking’s potential future in California is the illustrious Monterey Shale formation, which covers 1,750 square miles from Central to Southern California and holds an estimated 15.4 billion barrels of oil. Unlike many other states where independent operators and drillers dominate the landscape, it’s major oil companies like Occidental Petroleum and Venoco that have operated in California for decades. Yet most of these oilmen have played it safe, opting to not explore the vast deposits of the Monterey Shale because of its limited access and complex geology. Nevertheless, advancements in fracking technology are changing all of that, and fast.

Oil production in the state has been declining for years, yet California is still one of the top oil producers in the country, fourth overall, trailing only Texas, North Dakota and Alaska. If fracking can take off in California as it has in North Dakota recently, the state could experience an oil surge that could make the Golden State the largest oil producer in the US, almost immediately.

“If nothing is done, large parts of our state could be transformed into industrialized oil and gas zones … as we’ve seen in other places like Pennsylvania and North Dakota,” says Kassie Siegel, a lawyer for the feisty Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). “Fracking the 15 billion barrels of oil in the Monterey shale is like lighting the fuse on a carbon bomb that would shatter California’s efforts to address the climate crisis. Given California’s leadership in addressing climate change, if we can’t stop a fracking boom in California, it’s difficult to see how we get our nation off of fossil fuels.”

First on the chopping block are public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Prices have skyrocketed within the Monterey Shale formation in the last few years, in some cases the BLM is scoring $2,000 an acre for parcels that used to go for a mere 2 bucks. No doubt the companies leasing up the land are betting on a frack-friendly future, where once untouchable oil reserves soon will be within easy reach.

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