"Crisis in Public Confidence" Moves Three Fracking Moratorium Bills Forward
By Dan Aiello
In a vote along party lines, three bills calling for a halt to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Golden State moved forward Monday.
"At a minimum, there is a crisis in public confidence" with the state's ability to regulate fracking and keep Californians safe, Assembly Natural Resources Chair, Wesley Chesbro (D-Humboldt) told oil and gas lobbyists who testified before his committee which passed all three fracking moratorium bills; AB1323 (Mitchell), AB1301 (Bloom) and AB649 (Nazarian).
In response, the usually confident Paul Deiro, one of the Western States Petroleum Association lobbyists, lamented bills heard at the committee's previous hearing "were far more reasonable than the three moratorium bills you hear today" and argued that there is no evidence that fracking is unsafe.
Western States Petroleum Association, which spent $8.5 million influencing legislators and manufacturing consent last year, may have under-estimated their environmental opponents. "We should have been ahead of this," admitted Deiro.
The 11,000 foot deep Monterey Shale Deposit is estimated to contain more than 15.4 billion barrels of oil. Unfortunately, the deposit, spread over more than six California counties and under the state's ecologically fragile coastline, may be too costly to the state's other precious resource, water. It takes as many as 8 barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil and the water, once used, becomes a toxic soup which must be carefully disposed of or it will destroy groundwater supplies and fertile farmland.
Deiro claimed the moratorium would cost "billions of dollars in tax revenue and millions of jobs."
Even with an estimated potential 15.4 billion barrels of oil in the discovered Monterey Shale Deposit, California remains - in no small part due to 60 years of oil industry political influence in Sacramento - the only state in the union and only government in the world not to charge an oil severance tax.
Deiro's jobs estimate is suspect, as well.
Forbes magazine called the oil and gas industry the nation's "most recession-proof" because of its profit-per-employee ratio. The industry produces more than $15 million in profit per employee.
But industry lobbyists have a higher figure than Forbes because, as an example, they include convenience store clerks where gasoline is sold among their employment figures.
Fracking operations have casing and holding pond failure rates at six to ten percent, according to the industry, but Deiro claimed there has never been any contamination of land or water in California, a comment that evoked laughter in and outside the committee room, where another hundred or more environmental activists, mostly with the Center for Biological Diversity, watched on monitors.
Environmentalists fear the proliferation of fracking wells would likely mean contamination of pristine coast and groundwater supplies in the golden state.
Despite Deiro's claims, there is evidence fracking has caused the contamination of California farmland and studies in six other states show the dangers of water contamination to land, livestock, pets and humans.
In a letter delivered last week to state legislators, agriculture, environmental, Delta conservationists and health advocacy groups expressed strong support for Santa Monica Assemblymember Richard Bloom’s bill that would place a moratorium on fracking while mandating a review of the controversial practice’s health and environmental dangers.
“Fracking endangers our climate, air, water, wildlife, public health and private property,” says the groups’ letter. The bill is sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity, Food & Water Watch and Clean Water Action.
Environmentalists point out that the oil industry in California is notorious for ignoring the state's existing environmental quality regulations, noting Governor Brown's recent additional fracking regulations proposal did not include any increase in monitoring. California's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has only 50 on the ground inspectors for the state's thousands of oil wells, according to a DOGGR representative appearing before the Assembly committee earlier this year.
Tesoro, the state's largest California refinery owner, only this week announced plans to rail midwest crude to Oregon and Washington then ship the crude to its California refineries in order to avoid existing California permits and regulations. Environmentalists claim the Tesoro management's decision is typical of the oil and gas industry with the company choosing profit and the increased environmental risk inherent to the "rail-to-ship-to-pipe/ barge/rail" Tesoro plan over California's environmental protections.
Assemblymember Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) speaking on behalf of her bill, said that while she hoped the public's fear would subside, the lack of information regarding the chemicals used in fracking and returned to the surface as "produced" wastewater was
"a cause for pause." Mitchell's district sits atop the Inglewood oil deposit and residents, schools and parks are in close proximity to the "urban oilfield."
Regarding the issue environmentalists made about the 2.8 trillion gallons of water used for fracking in Kern County so far, Republican Assemblywoman Shannon Grove made the point "more water is used by golf courses in a single day than the amount of water used by fracking in an entire year." Grove said she wanted to clarify what was being said "about the industry I represent."
Dan Aiello reports for the Bay Area Reporter and California Progress Report. His coverage of California water issues and fracking were recently cited in a San Diego Union Tribune editorial, "A Faustian Bargain."