The federal government has started auctioning off leases on public lands with fracking access to the highly anticipated Monterey Shale oil reserves in California. Energy proponents say fracking will provide more affordable energy. Agricultural interests are concerned about water supply and contamination. Will the new California regulations make fracking safer?
Steve Craig, an olive rancher in Monterey County and former director of Ventana Conservation and Land Trust, spoke of a fracking well that went up about 15 miles from his ranch, “right on the Salinas River, lacking any of the protections that even our wineries were required to have in place.” He described the well as a “24 hour/day, all night long, bright, noisy operation, which out in the country upsets people.”
Mark Nechodom, director, California Department of Conservation, said that the Division of Oil and Gas Resources has not to date required reporting on hydraulic fracturing because hydraulic fracturing “is one short blip” in a very long life of an oil well, and it can be one of many things done for production stimulation. “In our historical use of fracturing in California, we have had no evidence that there is any environmental damage or hazard to human health—no evidence, I am saying—and therefore we have not required reporting. Now we are requiring reporting and we are in the middle of developing a regulation for that.”
According to Dave Quast, California state director of Energy in Depth, “We’ve been a major petroleum state for a number of years, and the governor has indicated strongly that we want to continue to do that.” He said that it’s been done safely, and now it will continue to be done safely in a more regulated environment. “We should all be excited about that, given the potential economic benefits and environmental benefits of developing our oil onshore,” rather than importing it from places that don’t have environmental protections.
Bill Allayaud, California director of governmental affairs for Environmental Working Group, spoke of his concern about injecting water under pressure with toxic chemicals. “Do we trust the industry to regulate itself?” he asked. “No. Bad idea.” He recalled the 1970s Arab embargo on oil and said that over the past 40 years, the café standards were barely bumped up, and added, “Utilities are blocking distributed generation, which is basically solar on everyone’s roof. Why are they against that? Why aren’t we pushing that and energy conservation all the way before we start trying to get every last hydrocarbon out of the ground in California and every other state?”
Nechodom said that California has been the fourth largest oil-producing state in the country, and for a long time it was the third largest. “One of the reasons that most Californians don’t know this is because the industry does operate under a very constrained environment, highly regulated, and you don’t hear about accidents, spills.”
Craig spoke about the “Halliburton loophole” in the Safe Drinking Water Act, which excludes fracking from the EPA regulation. He spoke of his frustration in trying to raise the issue of the Lake and Streambed Alteration Program, which requires notification of proposed activity. After contacting a number of agencies, he finally got the answer, “Well, the safe water drinking act loophole has really created a problem for us. We don’t know if we can act because it sort of overlaps with the clean water act.” Craig went on to say that the way to clarify the issue is to eliminate the loophole. “At this point, we don’t know what’s in the fracking fluids. How can you know if it’s a problem if you don’t know the content of the chemistry? It’s not fair to the public to hide behind that trade secret veil and expect us to live with it.”
Bill Allayaud, California director of governmental affairs, Environmental Working Group
Steve Craig, former director, Ventana Conservation and Land Trust; olive rancher, Monterey County
Mark Nechodom, director, California Department of Conservation
Dave Quast, California state director, Energy in Depth