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Fracking the Monterey Shale!

California is ranked 4th in oil production in the U.S.

You would never know it by our gasoline prices! ;-)

I always wonder why, but not really! ;-)

In July of this year, I blogged (“Fracking, ’cause their brains are lacking”) about an almost covert seismic survey of land around Aromas, CA by a company called Freedom Resources, :-) of Watsonville, CA which might be related to Freedom Resources, LLC of Dallas, TX, a company which has a Better Business Bureau rating of D- on a scale from A+ to F.

Fracking, which is short for hydraulic fracturing, is the somewhat hair-brained process of injecting water, sand, and chemicals (no, not “nice” chemicals!) into the ground, under pressure, to free natural gas and oil that is entrapped in shale formations. The practice has induced “swarms” of microearthquakes in places (like northeastern Ohio, near where my parents used to live) that have never HAD earthquakes, before. In addition, fracking can cause POLLUTION OF THE GROUNDWATER, which, by the way, people DRINK and crop plants use in their growth.

So it comes as little surprise that in December, the U.S. Federal Government (which owns below-surface rights to the mostly private land of California’s Central Coast) is scheduled to hold an auction to lease out parcels of land to oil and natural gas companies! The lease sale, which will be the SECOND on Monterey Shale in about a year is “fueling” :-) a growing battle among environmentalists, energy companies, and politicians over use of the fracking technology that has already spawned a heated argument in New York, Pennsylvania, and other states. In California, the lease sale will involve almost 18,000 acres of land from the Central Coast to the San Joaquin Valley and spans Monterey, San Benito, and Fresno counties!

Opposition to fracking is rising among environmentalists in California. Well operators in California have already voluntarily disclosed more than 350 fracking wells within the state, from Northern California to Long Beach. Nobody knows for sure how many fracking wells exist, because, unlike some states (believe it or not!) CALIFORNIA does not require companies to reveal the locations or numbers of the wells! Even MORE amazingly, companies fracking in California are not required to disclose the CHEMICALS that they use!

According to SFgate.com:

The Monterey Shale drew the attention of activists this summer when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management <BLM>, which oversees the mineral rights, announced the auction of 79 parcels spanning 17,847 acres. In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the bureau produced a draft analysis of the effects of oil and gas development on the environment and concluded it would have “no significant impact.” Among the tools the agency analyzed was fracking.

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental organization, accused the bureau of opening the door to fracking by minimizing its dangers.

“The (agency’s) analysis is completely inadequate,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the group’s Climate Law Institute. “If nothing is done, you could have large-scale fracking of the Monterey Shale without any adequate environmental review.”

In August, the Center for Biological Diversity said that it intends to SUE the BLM “…for failing to show how the sale will affect endangered species, including California condors, San Joaquin kit foxes and steelheads.”

Fracking has not yet been shown to cause groundwater contamination in California as it HAS in other states.

But studies elsewhere show a darker side to fracking. A 2011 congressional report found that oil and gas operators have fracked using known or possible human carcinogens, contaminants and hazardous air pollutants, such as benzene, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene and methanol – plus, said the report, “fluids containing chemicals that they themselves cannot identify.”

A Duke University study found high levels of methane in drinking-water wells near fracking sites. And Colorado School of Public Health researchers said this year that air pollution caused by fracking may lead to acute and chronic health problems in residents.

“When these oil and gas companies go into these areas and use new techniques,” Siegel <Kassie Siegel, Director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climat Law Institute> said, “we’ve seen all these problems in different parts of the country and that’s what we’re going to see in California.

A recent federal study estimated that the Monterey Shale holds 15.4 billion barrels of oil, or 64% of the U.S. shale oil reserves. The U.S. currently consumes about 19 million barrels of oil each day. SFgate says:

In September 2011, the federal government auctioned off a smaller section of the Monterey Shale – 2,600 acres – to oil and gas companies. Bids for acres went as high as $900 each and generated a total of $257,000. None of the buyers currently has a permit to drill.

But one of the companies, Venoco Inc., has shown strong interest in the shale. Having fracked in Santa Barbara County and the Sacramento Basin- an area stretching from the Klamath Mountains to the San Joaquin-Stanislaus County line – the company bought land in last year’s auction and sought drilling permits, but withdrew its applications when the Ventana Conservation and Land Trust filed a legal appeal, calling for more rigorous environmental review. A Venoco spokesman did not return calls for comment on the upcoming sale.

Last month, two bills to give California more oversight over fracking DIED in the California Legislature under intense lobbying by the oil and gas industry. Governor Jerry Brown has said that his administration will develop fracking rules. At the national level, the U.S. Interior Department has proposed regulations that would FORCE, for the first time, companies to disclose the chemicals used in fracking, but the start date for such regulation is unclear!

(A related article, about fracking using less water in California than in other states, is here. California has always had intense competition for its limited water, and we probably :-) have better uses for our freshwater than polluting it with toxic chemicals and forcing it underground.)

-Bill at

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