Fracking changes everything

It's toxic. It's contributing to climate change. And it's happening all over California — with little regulation

California counties with confirmed (in red) and suspected (in yellow) fracking.

In December 2012, the federal Bureau of Land Management held an annual auction for oil and gas development rights on federal territory in California, offering up wild lands in Fresno, Monterey, and San Benito counties. It sold off leases to 15 parcels, totaling nearly 18,000 acres. One bidder was a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, an oil company that drilled 675 new wells in California in 2011 alone.

The BLM affair works like any other auction: Bids are made verbally, and leasing rights are awarded to the highest bidder. Every last acre was snapped up, locking companies in for 10-year leases.

The average bid per acre? $4.21. The highest bid per acre? Ten bucks. The total federal government revenue? Just over $100,000.

The fact that oil companies can buy up mining rights to such a vast area of public land, for the price equivalent of about a tenth of a house in San Francisco, is nothing new. But this land auction was significant because BLM turned a blind eye to fracking, an oil and gas extraction technique that's fueled widespread opposition. BLM green-lighted the leases based on an official assessment projecting that no more than a single acre of land would be disturbed by the anticipated oil drilling, the same argument used to justify the previous year's auction.

Such a scenario may have been realistic in 2006, when the governmental agency drafted the document it relied on to make such a rosy prediction. But technological advancement has transformed the fossil-fuel sector over the past six years, and the oil industry is buzzing about vast untapped potential contained within the Monterey Shale, a leviathan geologic formation that extends across a major stretch of California, including beneath the federal lands in question.

"The Monterey area has become a focal point," says Brendan Cummings, "because, but for fracking, these areas would never get tapped for oil." An attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, Cummings splits his work between offices in Joshua Tree and San Francisco. He led the Center in a lawsuit against BLM over its 2011 oil-and-gas lease auction, which affected 2,500 acres, arguing that the government should have realistically assessed the environmental threats posed by fracking before it started handing out drilling rights.

"Fracking changes the economics of oil," Cummings says. "Fracking changes everything."

And it's happening all over California, and growing at a rapid rate.




Sounding more like an approximate substitute to circumvent a television ban on profanity, "fracking" is short for hydraulic fracturing. It consists of pumping high-pressure fluids up to 15,000 feet underground and into "horizontal wells" that can fan outward for a mile or more, with the aim of smashing up the shale formations. While a form of fracking has been in use for decades to "rework" oil wells, the kind of high-pressure, high-temperature operations now being employed represent a departure from traditional methods.

The exact contents of the proprietary fracking fluids are mostly secret, but they're known to contain high volumes of water, sand, and a patented blend of toxic chemicals, sometimes incorporating acid to make the rock brittle enough to fracture.

"Once they've fracked up the shale," explains Adam Scow, California campaigns director at San Francisco-based Food and Water Watch, "they can pump indefinitely." It's a short-term, expensive operation, Scow says, amounting to "drilling on steroids."

On April 8, a federal judge ruled that the Obama Administration had violated federal law in the 2011 BLM auction by failing to first conduct an environmental impact study on fracking. It's too soon to say how this will affect the 18,000 acres auctioned off in December, but Cummings says he expects to be back in court before long.


Now move on, and enjoy all that cheap energy.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 6:05 am

that could be funny, except the energy isn't any cheaper than it was before fracking. dumbass.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

Natural gas prices have dropped substantially - and have fueled a rebirth in manufacturing in the United States.

So you are - wrong.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

Natural gas prices are very low right now, in fact.

But even if energy was not cheaper, you do not know how expensive it might have been without fracking.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

While you are enjoying all that cheap energy, the oil companies will be turning California into a vast industrial wasteland. You should consider the alternatives.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

Cheap energy? Wouldn't that be amazing !!! Move on ? I will when I die, but I worry about what we are leaving to our children and future generations. Where will their clean water come from? You can't collect water in a rain barrel anymore because of all the pollution. I get it that we all are attached to our fuel needs, places to go, things to do. If people made a more concentrated effort to make every trip count, i.e. make a list, try to do all your shopping etc at in one trip instead of running to a store for every little thing you forgot. And car pool. Easy things that many are already doing, but encouraging others to do the same. I'm trying to instill these values in my kids and grandchildren in the hope that as they grow up they will do the same.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2013 @ 6:02 pm

Just because fracking is happening, does not mean we should accept it. Get a back bone and fight for the next generation's rights to clean water and air.

Posted by James on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 8:30 am

falling over each other to start fracking - UK approved it just recently - and there is a momentum effect.

Those nations that do not allow fracking will remain energy dependent on the mid-East. That's much worse.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 8:48 am

No actually, look at Germany with all of their solar power.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 9:35 am

Boosters, economic terrorists all, always go with the whatever is trendy, encouraging overloading on whatever the next bubble trend is and cashing out before the market crashes.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 9:43 am

Especially in cloudy, cold, northern Europe.

Posted by anon on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 9:56 am

You mean the country that hugely cut their solar subsidies because they couldn't afford it anymore? That Germany?

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on Apr. 18, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

Your comment bears no resemblance whatsoever to the massive and -continuing- success of the German renewable energy movement. Here is a link for the actual story of Germany's incredibly successful program, from Rocky Mountain Institute founder Amory Lovins:

Posted by Eric Brooks on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 8:51 am

I disagree. Being depentant on the middle east will only have a cost effect and require the nations to get along. Fracking can and has created long lasting issues as I am sure you know.

Posted by James on Apr. 18, 2013 @ 8:20 am

Hydrocarbons are fungible commodities that sell on the world market.

"Energy independence' and "free markets" are contradictory.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 18, 2013 @ 8:32 am

The point about our being dependence on Middle East peace for continued worldwide energy consumption should not be missed. Perhaps akin to the hidden rationale I suspect was behind the tear down Hetch Hetchy movement -- and in a round about way, directly related to fracking.

Posted by lillipublicans on Apr. 18, 2013 @ 9:18 am

Hetch Hetchy is much more environmentally destructive than fracking.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 18, 2013 @ 9:59 am
Posted by u spill bacillin on Apr. 18, 2013 @ 10:27 am

Debating whether the Hetchy Hetchy dam, or fracking, is worse for the environment is comparing apples and oranges.

They are both bad in their own ways.

Fracking is arguably much more damaging in its green house gas releases, its toxic and radioactive contamination, and its rapid exponential increase in scope, as a growing globally devastating environmental phenomenon.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Apr. 18, 2013 @ 11:33 am

as the US doesn't export it - yet. The Obama administration is due to make a decision on whether natural gas exports will be allowed.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 18, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

This article doesn't shed much light on whether there is any science saying that fracking is bad (or that it's not bad). Having (i) a guy from the California Dep't of Conservation who is against fracking; (ii) a guy from a food and water group who is against fracking; and (iii) an olive farmer who is against fracking, as the primary sources doesn't provide much insight.

Fracking isn't well understood. It sounds bad, but most arguments I've seen against fracking are generally premised on the concept that "how can injecting a bunch of fluid into the ground not be bad?" Is there any objective study one way or the other. (Operative word being objective.)

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 11:07 am

If you go back and re-read the article, you'll see that the head of the California Department of Conservation was not quoted as saying he was "against fracking." To the contrary, he justified DOGR's decision not to require reporting of fracking operations.

Posted by rebecca on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 11:19 am

Thank you for the guidance. I re-read it. His quote makes little sense. He says there is no evidence fracking is bad, so they didn't require any regulations/reporting. Now he says they're going to require regulations/reporting. Why are they going to require regulations if it's not bad?

Again, is there any objective study?

Posted by The Commish on Apr. 18, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

is to look at who is for and against it.

For: professional energy experts and scientists

Against: the "usual suspect" crowd with beards and sandals.

I rest my case.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 11:20 am

For: Greedy oil companies that are already on the government dole in a BIG way;
Against: Normal everyday people and especially parents and grandparents!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 3:28 pm
Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

there are tons of documentaries easily available on the subject of why fracking is bad. a quick search and a little sit down time will fill you in, but here is the short

1)toxic backwash... the water pumped in is incredibly toxic and it comes back up and needs to be disposed of, however...
2) because of the Bush era "Haliburton Loophole" the word 'pollution' was redefined to specifically bot refer to anything pumped into the ground for oil or gas extraction, which means
3) no US environmental laws now apply, by definition, and
4) that means that they are allowed to keep the contents of whatt they pump into the ground secret, because they, by definition, can not be violating any laws. They could , quite legally, pump straight plutonium into the wells and it would be legal.
5) Health issues are popping up across the country, but because of the Haliburton Loophole, oil companies are unaccountable. and finally
6) burning gas out of fracking operations contributes about twice as much to global warming as the worst case scenario of coal due to all of the gas losses along the way ... methane is a phenomenally worse greenhouse gas than CO2 and there are transmission loss rates of at least 10% if not 20% or more in places.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 10, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

All you people crowing about cheap energy at the expense of our natural wildlands are idiots.

It's the planet we all live on. You're trading the future for a quick fuel fix. I call that stupid.

Posted by guest on Apr. 18, 2013 @ 9:47 am

Long live bikers ! Fracking is soooo bad! People do your reaserch! Many Canadians know what is up with this method it takes more energy to frack than the amount it produces . Can we please study the effects of this prosess to the land beafore people ask if this is an option to get fuel . Thanks for alerting us!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

I find it interesting that no one has spoken of the correlation between fracking and earthquakes that has suspended fracking operatiions in certain parts of the country...see Science News, September 8 issue, 2012...seems this should be a hotbutton issue in a state that is subject to devastating earthquakes.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 5:55 am

Most of the article, well actually all of the article is uncited. You mention a subsidiary of Oxy but don't mention the name. You make all these claims but cite no report or study.

Why not give us the names of the reports that you cite or are they non existent and you're just pulling these things out of your a--.

This is not reporting, this is BS.

Posted by Andy on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 9:55 am

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