Read

Search form

California's Fracking Gone Wrong, Part 2: The Environmental Costs

California's Fracking Gone Wrong, Part 2: The Environmental Costs
Thu, 6/27/2013 - by Joseph Mayton

Dubbed the "future" of oil and natural gas in America — most lately by President Obama in his nationally televised climate change address — fracking is not all its hyped up to be, say scientists and environmental activists. And this is especially true in California, where the new frontline in the battle between big oil and the environment is taking shape.

While oil companies say fracking is a sensible “clean” solution to America's and specifically California’s energy needs, a wide range of scientific evidence shows that using toxic chemicals to drill thousands of feet into the earth is not a smart move — and nor are the emissions that natural gas produces something remotely resembling "clean."

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being directed by Congress to study the potential impacts of fracking on drinking and groundwater. But in another sign of government hedging on the issue, the final report which was scheduled to be released next year was just pushed back to 2016.

Fracking is the method used to extract oil and gas using hydraulics to break through the Earth’s crust to reach shale oil deposits beneath the surface. At the Monterey Shale Deposit in California, gas companies say fracking could lead to over 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil, positioning California as the country’s leading oil and gas producer.

But this boom will come at what cost? Environmentalists and scientists argue there are five major concerns that are arising from fracking, which they have seen first-hand in North Dakota. Jeremy Howard, a former consultant for the EPA who is now, in his own words, a “roaming activist,” works with numerous research groups to detail the environmental degradation of land. He has been in California for months looking into the fracking proposals for the Monterey Shale Deposit.

“I think it is my duty to put my skills to better uses than scapegoating companies through the EPA,” he began. The issue is personal for Howard, who fought against industry efforts to promote fracking as a clean alternative to traditional drilling, and hit up against walls in government.

“We must understand that there is a lot of money going to candidates and officials from the oil and exploration companies, and they want us to make it seem like this is a good idea. As the rest of the world looks for alternatives for energy, we in America can’t seem to overcome this dependence on oil. This is how we have fracking now,” he said.

Howard is like many of the environmental experts turned activists who are making their way to the Golden State in recent months as the battle over fracking heats up. For them, it isn't about the profits to the oil industry or people's cheaper cost of fuel, but the environmental consequences that will arise from drilling and pouring harmful chemicals deep beneath the earth's surface.

Howard spoke about numerous reports detailing the water and air quality problems that will be manifested through fracking as chemicals seep into water systems.

“It is personal and I believe in giving the right information to the right people — these people, who live here, because it will change their lives,” he said.

The EPA, Department of the Interior and other government agencies have reported that the fracking process can cause emissions of methane, volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. At the same time, the EPA is promoting fracking as a cleaner method to procure oil and gas, as “more efficient technology and cleaner fuels increase the ways in which hydraulic fracturing equipment and vehicles reduce emissions.”

But put simply, according to a Cornell University research study, the greenhouse gas emissions like methane that will be released into the atmosphere through fracking will contribute dramatically to global climate change. The jury may still be out on what the exact costs will be, and how much fracking will exacerbate climate change, but all scientific studies point to the high risk related to leaks in the current fracking equipment being employed by companies.

Above all other concerns, water safety could be seen as the most vital in the debate. Howard says the EPA is trying to downplay the consequences of fracking on water management and clean water sources by arguing that chemicals released into water systems are “well below” the drinking water line and will therefore not impact private homes and communities.

“In a nutshell, this is bullshit,” argued Howard. “The research we have shows that fracking chemicals have been detected in groundwater levels at or close to the point where it goes to homes, so this could literally kill people.”

And he has evidence to support his claim. In 2010, in Pavillion, Wyoming, residents in fracked communities complained about their water. Health investigators found a number of chemicals associated with fracking to have seeped into their drinking supply, and urged residents not to drink it any longer.

In addition, the EPA’s senior policy counsel, Robert Sussman. said the strain that heavy-volume surface and groundwater withdrawals for fracking pose to freshwater supplies may place water resources at the center of the conflict. However, because the EPA has little authority to address this issue, Sussman said that water use regulations will be largely left to local and state governments.

Another contentious issue is the heavy use of diesel fuel. Leaders from environmental organizations are calling for a ban on diesel used in fracking due to the extreme pollution it emits.

“It’s no secret that diesel is dirty and dangerous, and belongs nowhere near our drinking water. But the natural gas industry has been using this dangerous fuel for fracking, showing once again that they cannot be trusted to police themselves. We urge the EPA to ban diesel fracking and keep Americans’ drinking water clean and safe,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

Echoing him is Bob Wendelgass, president of Clean Water Action, who said, “We applaud EPA’s action and urge the Agency to use their authority to ban diesel use and to do whatever is necessary to protect precious underground drinking water sources from chemical contamination.”

But for now, the big question for organizations in California is how to battle the oil companies whose pursuits here are already underway. Hundreds of oil and gas wells in the state are undergoing hydraulic fracturing without government oversight, sending groups like Earth Justice to court demanding that agencies regulate the oil and gas industry and stand by the state’s “foremost law that protects public health and the environment.”

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, charges that the California Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has failed to consider or evaluate the risks of fracking as required by the California Environmental Quality Act. Although DOGGR is the state agency charged with regulating all oil and gas well activity in the state, the agency admits that it has neither permitted nor monitored fracking's impacts and has never formally evaluated the potential environmental and health effects — even as it continues to approve new permits for oil and gas wells.

The legal case, according to Earth Justice, could be the impetus for a new brand of activism that is arising in opposition to fracking, as droves of scientists and environmentalists converge on the state in what observers say could be a tipping point in the "war" against fracking.

“California, as the largest state, is a key point in the ongoing struggle to save our planet. And ending fracking is key to this,” added Howard.

Add new comment

Sign Up

Article Tabs

U.K. austerity policies, Institute of Fiscal Studies, U.K. education cuts, academy schools, school privatization, school budget cuts

With more teachers being made redundant, class sizes swelling, head teachers wrestling with holes in their budgets, the picture in Britain’s modern-day classrooms is bleak.

solar energy, rooftop solar, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, expanding solar power, renewable energy, United Steelworkers, USW, Break Free from Fossil Fuels, 350.org, Keystone XL pipeline, Deepwater Horizon spill, International Brotherhood of Electr

A growing green industry born of the United States’ hostile labor climate is unlikely to produce steady, good paying jobs without a fight.

Fair Housing Act, foreclosure crisis, housing bubble, bank crimes, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, redlining, Center for Constitutional Litigation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Consumer Law Center

From L.A. to Miami to Providence, families who lost their homes weren’t the only ones hurt by the foreclosure crisis – so there’s an argument to be made that they shouldn’t be the only ones who can go after the lenders.

Act Out, spoken word, poetry, art, creative activism, agitprop, power of art, Ana Teresa Fernandez, Borrando la Frontera, Erasing the Border, social sculptures, immigration, feminism, performance art, political art, border issues, Moms 4 Peace, Code Pink,

This week, a wall is a wall until it's — the sky? Ana Teresa Fernandez shows us how we might view things differently, simply through the application of color.

A fracking crew member works inside the Halliburton Sandcastle, at an Anadarko Petroleum Corporation site, near Brighton, May 19, 2014. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

The state's highest court on Monday halted cities' efforts to limit oil and gas development near people, ruling state power to promote industry trumps local bans, which the court deemed "invalid and unenforceable."

protest movements, social mobilizations, movement of the squares, Occupy Wall Street, Podemos Party, Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, protest demands, horizontal democracy, Arab Spring, Nuit Debout

The movements of the squares were a watershed moment that profoundly changed grassroots and institutional politics – they have enthused in equal measure as they have disappointed, both under-delivering and over-delivering on their promises.

Posted 5 days 22 hours ago

The Bay Area currency operates a commercial barter system – where businesses with unused inventory or excess capacity "deposit" their excess into an exchange, and “withdraw” other businesses’ excess goods and services instead of money.

Posted 6 days 18 hours ago
climate chaos, carbon emissions, climate movement, Break Free from Fossil Fuels, worldwide climate protests, disrupting dirty power, Climate Mobilization, 350.org, keep it in the ground, renewable energy transition

Starting next week, a global wave of mass actions will target the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects.

Posted 5 days 22 hours ago
climate crisis, climate information, Climate Feedback, accurate climate coverage

Climate Feedback brings together a global network of scientists who use a new web-annotation platform to provide feedback on climate change reporting.

Posted 6 days 19 hours ago
Black Lives Matter, ACLU of Oregon, state surveillance, surveillance programs

Monitoring the social media use of BLM activists is an example of "how the level of trust between law enforcement and communities of color has been so damaged," the civil rights group says.

Posted 6 days 19 hours ago
climate chaos, carbon emissions, climate movement, Break Free from Fossil Fuels, worldwide climate protests, disrupting dirty power, Climate Mobilization, 350.org, keep it in the ground, renewable energy transition

Starting next week, a global wave of mass actions will target the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects.

protest movements, social mobilizations, movement of the squares, Occupy Wall Street, Podemos Party, Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, protest demands, horizontal democracy, Arab Spring, Nuit Debout

The movements of the squares were a watershed moment that profoundly changed grassroots and institutional politics – they have enthused in equal measure as they have disappointed, both under-delivering and over-delivering on their promises.

young farmers, National Young Farmers Coalition, student debt, student loans, student debt forgiveness, Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

As more farmers retire, some lawmakers see student loan forgiveness as key to keeping small-scale food producers on the land.

Scottish independence movement, Scottish National Party, SNP, representative democracy, There Is No Alternative, RISE, Green Party

Parties like RISE, the Greens, and sections of the Scottish National Party are not only setting out new ideas – they are actively involved in movements fighting for change on the street, and at the ballot box.

Black Lives Matter, ACLU of Oregon, state surveillance, surveillance programs

Monitoring the social media use of BLM activists is an example of "how the level of trust between law enforcement and communities of color has been so damaged," the civil rights group says.