California’s Energy Future and the Impact of Fracking Discussed at Monthly Meeting

Hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking” for short–what is it?  Peg Mitchell, Club board member and an environmental activist,  discussed the topic in depth at our October meeting and explained, along with a well informed ten year old named Siena, why Californians need to know the environmental and health impacts of this process and understand the overall energy picture that has been clouded by promise of “100 years of energy independence.” This practice is already occurring in our state!

Fracking is an intensively destructive, water intensive practice where millions of gallons of water, laced with sand and highly toxic chemicals, are injected under high pressure down drilled holes or well bores.  In California well bores are drilled vertically into areas across the Monterey Shale Field, (extending as far south as San Onofre), 6,000 to 10,000 feet deep.  The bore in many cases then continues horizontally for thousands of feet, piercing through layers of shale that hold the “tight oil.”  The fluids are injected and an explosion ensues underground, fracturing the shale rock and releasing the trapped oil and gas. The highly contaminated water becomes even more toxic as radon, arsenic and other radioactive elements long held beneath the surface are released into the water that flows back up the well. Once that contaminated fluid, or “produced water,” is removed, the oil and gas is free to flow up and be collected at the well head. The contaminated water must be disposed of as a hazardous waste so is either reinjected into old unused wells or left to evaporate in open pits.

Why should San Diegans care? It’s all about the water. It takes anywhere from 1 to 8 million gallons of water to frack one well one time (and one well may be fracked multiple times). Multiplying the number of potential wells to be drilled in the future could be an enormous drain on an already scarce resource. With climate change causing ever decreasing snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and a shrinking Colorado River, our two main sources of water, there’s a scramble to find new sources. Toilet-to-tap plans for SanDiego city, the desalinization plant in Carlsbad and the proposed Delta Bay Dual Tunnel projects are good examples of California spending enormous sums of money to find new water sources. These water projects will inevitably increase the cost of water to consumers, especially for San Diegans who are at the end of the water pipeline.

Moreover, the extracted oil will not help Californians. The California Air Resources Board, (CARB), under our Cap and Trade AB32 law, has scored the carbon intensity of all forms of energy. CARB scored the oil under some parts of the Monterey Shale field as dirtier than even the Tar Sands oil that is the subject of the Keystone Pipeline project. So why should we allow fracking for an oil we can’t burn that will make climate change and our drought worse and thus increase our water bills while decreasing our water supply?

You’d think our environmentally friendly Governor and legislature would consider the same question. However, 10 bills introduced into the legislature this year, including some calling for a moratorium until such questions as health, contamination, earthquake, and water risks could be studied, all failed due to lack of Democratic support. This flies in the face of the state party platform that includes a plank calling for a moratorium on fracking. Read the resolution for yourself by clicking here.

The picture nationwide is even more dire. In North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas, statistics tell a different story. Fracked wells produce the most oil or gas in the first few months after fracking, much like shaking a new soda bottle up first then removing the cap. After a few successive times, the fizzing gusher fizzles out. It’s no different with fracked wells. New wells are being drilled in a frenzy to replace the wells no longer producing. Most wells have declined 90% within the first two years so the replacement rate just to keep production flat is frantic. It is projected that this bubble will burst within the next 10 years. Meanwhile the fracking hype has caused enormous environmental damage and diverted attention and capital away from renewable projects that would indeed prepare us for a future free of fossil fuels.

A coalition of over 150 California environmental organizations, Californians Against Fracking, formed in order to push for a moratorium. Member organizations, like SanDiego350.org whom Peg represents, lobby city councils and county boards to pass resolutions to ban the practice or at a minimum urge Governor Brown to place a moratorium on fracking until it’s better understood. Petitions are also circulating that can help to show how Californians oppose this practice.

And Siena? She’s been interested in protecting and saving the environment since the age of 5.  At age 10 she made herself an expert on fracking. She has given 2 Tedx talks, spoke to 4 San Diego classrooms, was featured on a local radio station, and spoke at both 350.org and Move-On council meetings. She joined Josh Fox from the movie, Gasland, for the LA Rally at Gov. Brown’s office. She also spent part of her summer lobbying CA State legislators and senators about the dangers of fracking. As she explained to our Club, she is determined to ban fracking so that she, her children, and her children’s children will have clean water to drink, clean food to eat, and clean air to breathe.  She  inspires us all to heed the call to action.

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