Tag archive for fracking

The earthquake in Oklahoma in 2016 — and in Colorado in 1966

Oklahoma is now the most earthquake-prone state in the nation, considerably outdistancing California, according to the USGS. Yesterday morning a 5.6 in magnitude quake hit northcentral Oklahoma, with shaking felt as far away as Arizona and the Midwest. The record-settling quake has been linked to oilfield wastewater disposal, according to state regulators, who ordered a 500-square mile shutdown in disposal activity Saturday, according to the Washington Post.

Not so coincidentally, the discovery that disposal of liquid wastes underground causes seismicity was first discovered fifty years ago due to an earthquake measured at a very similar 5.3 in magnitude. How that happened was part of one of my favorite story leads a couple of years ago, so forgive me for reposting — it’s a really interesting story.

The U.S. Army had a problem, a big problem: 165,000 gallons of some of the deadliest war materials known to man, including napalm, chlorine gas, mustard gas and sarin, a nerve gas developed by the Nazis, tiny doses of which can kill in minutes. After stockpiling these weapons of destruction for decades in its Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, the government decided the time had come to dispose of the hazardous wastes but didn’t know how.

The solution? In l961, authorities drilled a well 12,000 feet deep, far below any aquifer, and over the next five years pumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic wastes into a cavity in the rock miles beneath the surface.

One problem: Not long after the pumping began, Denver and nearby suburbs began to experience swarms of earthquakes. Most of them were quite small, less than 3 in magnitude, but in a region that rarely experiences earthquakes, 1,300 earthquakes in four years raised questions. Then, in August 1967, a significant earthquake — magnitude 5.3 — shook the city of Denver and the nearby suburb of Commerce, with damages that totaled over $1 million.

The Army stopped pumping the toxic wastes into the injection well. Geologists discovered the liquids had been pumped into an existing fault deep in the “basement” rock. The fault had begun to lose strength and slip, even after the pumping stopped

For city officials, this was alarming, but geologists were intrigued to discover it was possible to trigger earthquakes along existing fault lines, and a team of scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey soon launched into an experiment in an oil field with known earthquake faults in Rangely, Colo. The goal? To learn what volume of fluid pressures were required to trigger earthquakes, and to see if seismic activity could be stimulated and then brought to a halt. The experiment worked, on a small scale, and encouraging results were reported in the journal Science in March of 1976.

“We may ultimately be able to control the timing and size of major earthquakes,” the team, led by C.B. Raleigh and J.H. Healy, speculated. They suggested drilling wells along the San Andreas Fault, and injecting water to release seismic pressures with little earthquakes. They hoped in this way to prevent the legendary “Big One,” an earthquake comparable to the massive and ruinous l906 San Francisco earthquake, which has a 3 percent to 30 percent chance of occurring in the next 30 years in California.

“They actually proposed this idea, to drill wells and pump in water and trigger small earthquakes along the San Andreas,” said William Bilodeau, who chairs the geology department at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. “And they got fairly far along in the planning process and then people began to say, ‘Wait a minute — what happens if we set off a really big earthquake? What’s the [legal] liability?’ ”

The rest of the story is about Ventura County in the present day, which (fortunately!) turns out for geological reasons not to be particularly vulnerable to this kind of oilfield waste disposals.

The county still has plenty of earthquake issues of its own, not to mention oilfield waste disposal problems.

Taylor Swift’s immortal line comes to mind re: Oklahoma —

Hey now we got problems
and I don’t think we can solve them

But Oklahoma, after years of denying any possible connection between oilfield waste disposal and seismicity, this weekend shut down disposal wells in a vast area — 725 square miles, according to the Tulsa World.

Full Story »

Scenes from an explosion/investigation: Fracking radioactivity sent to Oxnard/Pacific

Although it hasn’t been widely reported, the explosion at Santa Clara Waste Water Corporation (SCWWC) near Santa Paula last November came about a month after the Oxnard waste water treatment plant, which processes the waste water sent to it via a 14-mile pipeline from SCWW, noticed high levels of radioactivity in its sampling. Because the waste water after treatment ends up in the Pacific, this is not allowed by the federal Clean Water Act. Oxnard sent a cease and desist letter to SCWW.

After the explosion, the court investigators looked into this dispute. The writing — from the search warrant request dated 3/30/15 — is officious and dry, but the facts will drop your jaw. In short, according to its own people, Santa Clara Waste Water piped radioactivity from frack jobs to Oxnard: 

“SCWWC has an agreement entitled “Wastewater Conveyance and Treatment Services Agreement” entered into with Oxnard on July 15,2004 and covered a period of five years, expiring on July 15, 2009. The scope of services pursuant to the contract is, in part, as follows: The city agreed to accept and treat no more than 600,000 gallons of wastewater per day discharged by SCWWC into the city’s sewerage system in accordance with SCWWC’s Industrial Wastewater DIscharge Permit No. OC-8 or any future permit issued pursuant to provisions of Chapter 25 of the Oxnard City Code. The agreement required SCWWC to pay the City of Oxnard all fees pursuant to Ordinance 2632 pulus a fee of $.032 (3.2 cents) per barrel of wastewater discharges into the City’s sewerage system…[Oxnard wastewater specialist] Jeremy Grant said SCWWC paid the same rate per barrel that was initially set in l988. Grant did not know why the rate never increased.”

“The Indistrial Waste Discharge Permit is governed by 40 CFR 437.47 (the Clean Water Act). As part of the permit, SCWW is required to provide montlhy self-monitor reports. The reports must be certified. The reports were certified by Chuck Mundy and were provided monthly to Jeremy Grant.”

“On August 5, 2014, the City of Oxnard conducted semiannual sampling of its effluent discharge to be analyzed for radioactivity. The effluent sample was collected and sent to Weck Laboratories for analysis. A report from Weck Laboratories dated September 5, 2014 indicated a result of 94 pCI/L for Gross Beta [aka Potassium-40] which exceeded the maximum daily effluent limit of 50 pCi/L for the parameter. In respone to this violation, the City of Oxnard initiated an investigation to identify the source of the radioactivity. On September 24, 2014 City personnel collected a wastewater sample at the sample port on Wooley Road and Richmond Avenue. The sample results indicated a Gross Beta concentration of 4,400 pCI/L.” 

[Catch that? Santa Clara Waste Water was allowed to emit 50 picocuries per liter of radioactivity, and was emitting 4400. According to my calculator, that’s approximately 90x the legal limit.]

On October 15, 2014 [about a month before the explosion] a meeting was convened with Grant, Plant Superintendent Mike Wilson, and others to discuss the findings and come up with an action plan. On October 15, 2014 City staff collected additional samples of SCWW discharge. A sample taken at the port on Wooley Road near Richmond Avenue was determined to be 3000 pCi/L Bross Beta (exceeding the effluent limit of 50 pCi/L)….” [other samples were lower, but still mostly exceeding the legal limit].

On October 22, 2014, Grant delivered a cease and desist order to SCWWC and discussed their pending investigation of waste water discharges containing Gross Beta radiation. Bill Mitzel, Chief Executive Officer for Green Compass, accepted the order. The City also notified Chuck Mundy. Mundy said the discharge was from frack water from Vintage Oil. SCWWC did not deny the Gross Beta radiation was from their facility. 

[Note: By contract and by law, SCWW was not allowed to accept hazardous waste — including radioactivity.]

Here’s a picture of CEO Bill Mitzel, from a booking photo:



Mitzel faces five felony charges, including “impairment of the body of an employee in violation of the labor code,” and two misdeamenors, for a total of 17 felony counts and 5 misdemeanors.






Full Story »

Ojai Chatauqua on fracking: know your CA geology

Part of what the Ojai Chautauqua tries to do every couple of months is bring out information regarding complex topics, which is what I tried to do in part as a moderator this past Sunday for a panel on fracking.

What did we learn? Well, here's one item, from Kimberly Rivers story in the Ojai Valley News this yesterday.

In contrast to Anne Kallas' story in the Ventura County Star, mentioned last time, this time Rivers doesn't find a consensus in the panel around a need for transparency.

She focuses more on the geology, and on the increased volume of wastewater. 

A couple of excerpts. One, we get a close-up look at the geology from a UCSB geophysicist named Craig Nicholson, who was the first guy I wanted on the panel, a real honest-to-God scientist:

Nicholson pointed out that because of California's many faults, the rocks are already fractured quite a bit — actually reducing the need to use processes like fracking, which break the rock to get the oil out. 

"Because of the natural fractures that already occur in California, fracking has never been a major component of producing oil and gas in California," Nicholson said. 

[Nicholson said] fracking has increased in the last ten to fifteen years. 

"California geology is way more complicated than other parts of the country where fracking is used. California always has more problems."

[I'm standing: Craig is seated four chairs away from me, second to the far left]


Full Story »

Ojai fracking panel agrees: more transparency please!

Over the last four or so months I put together a panel on fracking for the Ojai Chautauqua, a centrist group that holds public forums/discussions on controversial issues at the Ojai Valley Inn. (Think I'm beginning to learn how to do it: This is the third such panel I put together this year, and the second I moderated.)

What happened? General agreement among panelists: more transparency please.

One of the panelists, a former petroleum engineer named Don Clarke, who has been touring the country for the Obama administration and the National Academy of Sciences on the subject of induced seismicity and fracking/injection wells, introduced a concept he picked up in Canada — the Social License to Operate. Meaning that oil companies need the consent of the governed, essentially, and if the process is convoluted or mysterious and the findings alarming, then the license may not be granted. (It's more specific than that: check out the link — but the point is a local permit is not enough.) 

Here's the story from the Ventura County Star. Funny to me the way I am quoted, but not inaccurate, I must admit. 

[OJAI, Calif. – The word fracking has become a red flag for people concerned about one of the practices of oil-well stimulation, according to Kit Stolz, moderator for the Ojai Chautauqua: The Future of Fracking.

“How do we deal with such a complicated issue?” Stolz asked a panel of five speakers with various ties to the oil industry on Sunday at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa.

The panelists agreed on the need for greater openness on the part of oil companies about the process of extracting oil from the ground.

“There is a deep mistrust of oil companies. If (fracking) is safe, then let’s find out more about it. What chemicals are they using? By building transparency we hope to lower the temperature,” said Henry Stern, a legislative aide to state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. Pavley sponsored the highly criticized Senate Bill 4, which Stern helped write.

Senate Bill 4, in part, calls for extensive scientific analysis of fracking by the California Department of Natural Resources. The bill requires greater oversight of various oil extraction practices, as well as more regulation of wells, including permitting and providing information about the chemicals used, source of water used and plans for disposal of that water.

Panelist Craig Nicholson, a geophysicist from UC Santa Barbara, noted that while there has been a correlation between fracking and an increase in earthquakes in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Midwestern oil fields, the opposite is true in California.

Showing a chart that detailed the earthquake rates compared with fracking wells in Kern County, the only California county where hydraulic water injection — or fracking — is widely used, Nicholson said there has actually been a drop in seismic activity.

Don Clarke, a petroleum geologist, said fracking essentially involves using liquid with various chemicals that is injected underground to fracture rock and release the oil. Other oil extraction methods include injecting hydrochloric acid down wells to dissolve rock.

Brian Segee, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Center in Ventura, contended that there is little oversight of old wells in Ventura County, many of which have permits that go back decades.

Stern pointed out that SB 4 calls for all wells that are fracking to get a permit, even those older wells. “If you’re fracking an old well, you need a permit,” he said.

Stolz, a freelance writer for The Star, said one of the biggest arguments for fracking and increased oil drilling is job creation. He pointed to a University of Southern California study that says using hydraulic fracturing to access oil in the Monterey Formation shale deposit would yield 15 billion barrels of oil and create 500,000 new jobs.

Dave Quast, California director of Energy In Depth, an advocacy group of independent oil producers, said those are “very optimistic” numbers. He added that most oil companies agree that greater openness about their practices will go a long way toward appeasing public unease.

Tom Krause, of the Ojai Chautauqua, ended the session by thanking the 150 or so people who gathered to pose questions or listen.

“This is a community-based project about how people can get together for civic discourse,” said Krause, who said the fracking panel is the third event sponsored by the group.

He concluded by asking people to send in nominations for other topics. For information about the Ojai Chautauqua, call 231-5974 or go online to http://www.ojaichautauqua.org.]

There is a fairly substantial uptick in local production in Ventura County since 2007, from about 7.2 million barrels a year, to about 8.9 million barrels. But it's impossible to know how much, if any, of that uptick can be attributed to fracking — or at least none of the panelists could answer that question.  


Full Story »

Oilco’s spend $9 million to defeat county anti-fracking efforts in CA

According to this excellent story from Reporting on Health fellow Leilani Clark, oil companies such as Aera, Chevron, and Exxon-Mobil have donated more than $1.7 million to efforts to defeat Proposition J in San Benito county, which would ban fracking. 

Ever heard of San Benito? True confession: I hadn't. Despite spending most of my life in California. 

San Benito, located perhaps fifty miles south of San Jose, turns out to be tiny. Less than 60k humans, and a lot of cows. An experienced activist with Food and Water Watch told me the county has about 24k voters. Some of those voters are ranchers, and some of them don't like the idea of fracking. 

Every morning, just after breakfast, Joe Morris heads out to check the water for his herd of 130 pasture-raised cattle. This year, thanks to California’s extreme drought, the creeks on his property have run dry.

“A herd of cattle without water is not a pretty sight,” says Morris, a rancher who has practiced holistic management of the water and soil on his family’s San Juan Bautista ranch since 1991.

Morris Grassfed Beef is part of a large network of organic ranches, farms, and vineyards in San Benito County, a rural enclave just south of the San Francisco Bay Area, where farming is a way of life. Earthbound Farms, the largest industrial grower of organic produce in the U.S. is located here, along with dozens of smaller operations that produce much of the local meat, vegetables, and fruit relied upon by chefs and restaurants in nearby urban areas. All these farms rely on water, but the drought isn’t their only concern. Farmers and ranchers like Morris also worry that the area’s precious water might go toward hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in the county.

As one of two counties with fracking bans on the local ballot this November, San Benito County has also become the site of a heated political battle between oil companies and anti-fracking ranchers, farmers, and residents. A similar fight is going down in Santa Barbara County, where oil companies have funneled $7.6 million into a campaign against Measure P, a citizen’s ballot initiative that would ban future high-intensity petroleum operations on unincorporated county land.

California's a big place, but wow that's a lot of money to spend in two counties. If you're not an oil company, I guess. Chevron, for instance, made close to $5 billion in the second quarter. 

Here's a pic from the Morris Ranch in San Benito county. 


Full Story »

Ventura County busts fracking injection well in Oxnard

From the Ventura County Star, news today of a police bust of an injection well site in Oxnard — the only site in the county that accepts fracking fluid for disposal purposes. 

OXNARD, Calif. – Investigators from the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office converged on the site of a local oil field waste company outside Oxnard on Thursday with search warrants.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Christopher Harman said investigators arrived at Anterra Corp.’s waste disposal site on East Wooley Road outside Oxnard on Thursday morning. The company’s headquarters in Santa Paula was also served, he said.

Harman said he could provide no further details about the open investigation of possible criminal violations.

Anterra officials had no prior warning of the searches and had not been interviewed by any agency before the investigators arrived, company attorney Jim Prosser said Thursday.

Prosser said he understands that investigators are looking at company activities in and around July 2013, when Anterra was under different management. He declined to say who was managing the company at that time, saying he didn’t know enough about the circumstances and the time period under investigation.

Interesting, but the timing mentioned by the corporation doesn't seem to jibe with this note from our local watchdog group, CFROG, which posted this a month ago about what sounded like an on-going dispute between the county and the corporation. 

The Ventura County planning department is alleging that in just five months, at the Anterra Waste injection wells in Oxnard , the company injected 19.2 million gallons or 457 thousand barrels or of waste into two disposal wells on East Wooley road. (42 gallons = 1 barrel) They allegedly accepted a total of 4350 tanker trucks when the CUP allows 3096. (still far too many for safety in Oxnard in our opinion.) That's 1254 trucks coming down our highways and streets in violation of the current permit according to Ventura County. Class II underground injection wells. can take any fluid related to oil and gas drilling, including fracking waste water.

Anterra is appealing the decision on some interesting grounds including claims that planning manager Brian Baca is unethical and a hearing will be held October 23rd.

For some reason the Star story today did not mention this dispute over the volumes of fluids being disposed beneath Oxnard, although you must figure it's at the root of the conflict. It's well-known among geologists that there are thresholds to be attained before seismicity becomes possible. which is why the volume of fluids can be a crucial matter. But the paper has three reporters on this, so I'm sure we haven't heard the end of it.

Was just talking today with a geophysicist at UCSB who said a new study from CalTech found "induced seismicity" — earthquakes connected to injection wells — at a handful of injection wells sites in Kern County, out of a total of 1600.  

So why worry? Right? 

But the Ventura County D.A. has issues, clearly, when they send what looks like a SWAT to collect records from a corporation. Why the urgency if they're investigating what happened a year ago?


 Follow-up from a commentator, Quiet against the Noise, in the "comm boxes" below the newspaper story, who seems to know more than all the rest of us put together. See here (or below the fold).  

21 Hours Ago
The Anterra site – a commercial Class II Injection Well – has never come under environmental review since opening for operation in 1956. 
When The Texas Company applied for and received their first CUP in Oct 1956, no environmental review was required. In Feb 1989, the facility was sold to Anadime and in June the County permitted a Class II Injection Well for disposal of its on-site oil waste. No environmental review was required. 
In Aug 1989, Anadime applied for and received a CUP with a Minor Mod allowing for their Class II Injection Well to become a "commercial facility" and receive oil waste from other operations. Anadime was exempted from any environmental review by the County of Ventura. The County of Ventura granted Anadime's CUP for a period of 20 years. 
In Nov 2001, DOGGR approved a transfer of ownership to Anterra and restatement without requiring any environmental review by the State of California. 
In Feb 2009, Anterra received County approval to convert Well #5 from production to injection. The Planning Director found the applicant's request to be categorically exempt from CEQA. 
In June 2011, Anterra was issued a Notice of Violation for exceeding truck trips along with 5 other counts. It took them nearly 2 and 1/2 years to clean up their act. Eight months later, Anterra filed a pre-submittal application with the County of Ventura for analysis of a text amendment to allow its commercial Class II injection well – currently a non-conforming use – to continue to operate under a new CUP. The Planning Director's initial review did not identify any public health, safety, or welfare concerns. 
In June 2014, Anterra was once again issued a Notice of Violation for exceeding truck trips – from 25 to 552 over the legal limit per month from Nov 2013 to March 2014 – along with other citations. Anterra has appealed and is scheduled to meet with the Planning Commission this October 23rd. 
It's time for the County of Ventura to quit playing footsies with a 60-year-old operation that receives toxic fluids just outside the Oxnard City limits, knowingly exceeds their permitted uses, and injects God knows what into wells over and/or under our deep water aquifers, which we may one day need soon to use for drinking water. 
While Planning may not recognize any public health, safety or welfare concerns, then maybe County electeds might want to take a harder look as we approach November…  
I have concerns. DO YOU? 

Full Story » Comments (4)

Little known fracking fact: it’s costing us in ice cream

Here's a story from an interesting blog on the Utica Shale, a story on five facts about fracking that you may not know — and a chart. Veteran environmental reporter Bob Downing of the Akron Journal maintains this blog,and said that it gives 10-15k hits a week — impressive. 

For those of us on the Left Coast, think these two may be the most relevant of these facts about fracking from this particular story:

"It makes your ice cream more expensive.

One component of the small percentage of fracking fluid that is not sand or water is guar gum. This natural product of the seeds of the guar plant is also used to improve the texture of ice cream. A chart of guar gum prices since 2000 looks like this:


Ice cream and other foods that utilize the product have seen significant increases in cost. For those of us with a sweet tooth, this alone may be reason enough to be wary of any more rapid expansion of fracking.

The biggest environmental threat could be from the amount of water used, not chemical contamination.

If the benign nature of guar gum and the small percentage of chemicals used in fracking fluid has you believing that the environmental concerns have been massively exaggerated, think again. Fracking just one well uses somewhere in the region of 3 to 8 million gallons of water. Using 2011 data, this article by Jesse Jenkins calculates that to mean that the amount of freshwater consumed by all the shale wells in the U.S. was about 0.3 percent of total U.S. freshwater consumption. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but in a world where water scarcity is becoming more of an issue it has to be considered as fracking use spreads."

Okay then! Wouldn't it be interesting to know exactly how much more ice cream costs? There's a story we haven't seen. A little gimmicky, but would be interesting to know. 

On the slightly more important water question, talked to a professor at Carneige Mellon briefly about water, and she said that frack jobs can use brackish water — but 3-8 million gallons per job? Is that true in California? Holy cow.  

[From those wild-haired radicals at OilPrice.com.]

Full Story »

Quakes strike fracked oil reserve in Ireland, Gov Says

Here's some news about fracking and earthquakes in Ireland:

The largest earthquakes since 1843 have been confirmed by the British Geological Survey in the same area of the Irish Sea that suffered tremors directly linked to shale gas fracking.

The two quakes occurred on Sunday morning with a magnitude 3.2 ML earthquake recorded at 10.58am, preceded by a magnitude 2.4 ML foreshock at 6.37am in the same location off the Fylde Coast, 25km west of Fleetwood, Lancashire.

Seismologists at the British Geological Survey confirmed today that both earthquakes were the largest to have occurred in the Irish Sea since a series of three tremors, with magnitudes ranging from 3.8 to 5, were recorded in March 1843.

To translate from the scientific/newspaperese: This is an area that almost never had earthquakes, and now after fracking they're happening frequently. 

To be fair, these aren't big quakes: 

One report described how the largest earthquake “felt as a low frequency swaying. Very short duration, no more than a second or two”, and another added: “sat at the computer, and the desk shook, an my stomach moved (a mild feeling like you get on a roller coaster just before a drop)”. 

Another report received by the British Geological Survey described: “it felt like the whole house moved south to north for a second and then I looked around and saw a large artificial tree shaking”, and another added: “sofa shook and keys were swinging in the door was sitting on chair which had vibrations going through it as well”.

But here's the really amazing part. The government found a link between the practice of fracking and the occurence of earthquakes, and ordered the company to stop fracking. (Well, almost.) 

In November 2011, the UK Government threatened to call a halt to controversial gas drilling in the area after independent geology reports confirmed a series of earthquakes the previous summer were linked to shale gas extraction.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) had warned gas company Cuadrilla Resources to follow the report recommendations, which connected fracking to two earth tremors that shook the Lancashire coastline in May.

Geologists reported the epicentre of one 1.5 magnitude quake on May 27 was within 500 yards of the well of the fracking operation and the second 2.3 tremor on April 1 originated less than two miles away.

The report “The Geo-mechanical Study of Bowland Shale Seismicity” claimed that there was little risk of future seismic events reoccurring in the Bowland Basin but proposed a series of mitigation measures in case of any future seismic activity.

This report was released after Cuadrilla was ordered to be fully open with the community about all the report findings.

Then the government ordered the oil company to be completely transparent in its operations! Given that the great state of California does not currently regulate fracking on its lands, it's kind of jaw-dropping. 

Here's a pic from a story about fracking on the North Coast of Ireland from veteran environmental reporter Geoffrey Lean:  


Full Story »

Shale oil: Overhyped?

Two weeks ago at a conference on fracking in Agoura, an industry analyst named Gordon Pickering told about 150 geologically sophisticated insiders that natural gas companies are seeing rapid rates of decline in production in the Bakken formation in North Dakota.

"It's requiring more and more drilling, and becoming increasingly energy intensive," he said. "The natural gas industry is becoming more like a manufacturing process than a typical oil and gas exploration. The decline rates can be managed by additional drilling. Decline rates in gas shale plays are very high, but companies can take advantage of that by drilling four or five wells per pad."

Last week in the Wall Street Journal, via Kevin Drum, news that Shell Oil had to take a $2 billion writedown because its shale oil production in the U.S. is not meeting expectations. To wit:

Royal Dutch Shell PLC on Thursday posted a 60% drop in
second-quarter profit, largely because the oil and natural-gas giant
wrote down the value of its North American shale assets by more than $2
billion after tax, highlighting the difficulties that energy companies
face in finding new oil they can pump at a profit.

….Shell cited disappointing drilling results at its North American shale assets, which it said turned out to contain less oil than it had hoped.
Even excluding the charge on those assets, Shell's earnings fell well
short of analysts' expectations as the company struggled with production
declines and rising costs.

Here in Ventura County, it's well-known that the oil fields are "distorted," such that geologists I have spoken to have expressed doubts that horizontal drilling — which is where fracking really pays off — will work. (Although other methods, such as acidizing, might still produce oil from tapped-out fields.) 

Here's a chart of the rich Ventura oil field area compiled by the California Division of Oil and Gas. 

Doesn't look simple, does it?  The Bakken field is flat and easily fracked by comparison. 

Full Story »

Why California is not going to ban fracking by initiative

At the enormously helpful Hydraulic Fracturing conference put on by the American Groundwater Trust, State Senator Fran Pavley concluded her talk by alluding to the possibility that if California voters feel that nothing is being done to protect their groundwater, they may take matters into their own hands and vote for an initiative to regulate or ban fracking.  

It's not a crazy idea, if you look at the polls. In June more than 70% of Californian's in a Los Angeles Times/USC poll said they supported a ban or strict regulation. Pavley's bill, SB 4, began as a moratorium two years ago, and over time morphed into a suite of comprehensive regulations (see below). 

But when I asked Andrew Grinberg, of Clean Water Action, which advocates a halt to fracking until we know it's safe, about an initiative to ban it, he pointed out that the oil and gas industry wields the mightiest of checkbooks, in the legislature, and over the airwaves.

A campaign in Ohio to tax fracking provides an excellent example of his point. A conservative Republican governor proposed a tax on fracking, to raise money for depleted state coffers, and backed by 60% of voters polled in the state. And what happened? 

When Ohio Gov. John Kasich pitched his budget a few months ago, he made a big deal about a “fracking tax” that would bring billions of dollars to the state in the coming years.

It was only fair, he said, for Ohioans to share in the bounty of the shale oil boom going on in their own backyard. Almost 60 percent of Ohioans agreed, telling pollsters they favored higher taxes on oil and gas drillers.

Despite that support, the tax never had a chance.

It was dead on arrival at Ohio’s House of Representatives a few weeks later.

If campaign contributions are any measure of influence, the oil and gas industry played an important part in the outcome.

An [Cincinnati] Enquirer analysis has found that 10 of the largest oil and natural gas companies and their main political action committee have pumped more than $660,000 into Ohio legislators’ campaign coffers since 2010.

They’ve given mostly to Republicans, who got 91.5 percent of oil and gas contributions, and most often to Republicans in Ohio’s House, who would later decide the fate of the fracking tax.

House Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, alone got more than $227,000 – about $1 of every $10 he raised – from oil and gas companies, PACs and individual donors with ties to the industry.

Batchelder’s connections to the industry and opposition to the tax are so strong that Kasich joked about it last month when asked when he might try again to push a fracking tax through the House.

“Well, I think we wait for Batchelder to retire,” he said.

In California, according to local representative Das Williams,, Pavley's bill has a chance, although it's far from a slam dunk. But nobody knows if Govenor Brown will sign it, and he's not saying. 

Full Story » Comments (2)