The nation was abuzz yesterday with highly unsustainable news of a fresh way to squeeze millions more barrels of oil from the deepest Earthstuffs of America the Beautiful: It's called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” among Big Oil execs and burly Daniel Day-Lewis types, and it's a distinct possibility for California's own Monterey Shale, an oil field stretching from NorCal down to Los Angeles County.
Pros: A shit-ton more jobs in the drilling biz, national internalizing of the industry (lining up nicely with Obama's call for fewer imports, if not his more karma-friendly obsession with alternative energies of the future) and possibly lower gas prices.
Cons: Uh… Where do we start?
Well, obviously, there's that whole global warming thing to worry about, but even if you're an energy pessimist who thinks we've already screwed ourselves into an apocalypse so we might as well enjoy our Hummers up 'til the end, a few more immediate problems might also plague the fracking revolution.
As if SoCal hasn't had enough problems with cancer-causing tap water, Erin Brockovich (the real one, not the “Pretty Woman” one) has a new contaminant to worry about: Oil.
That's right: The same hellish slime that recently coated the Gulf of Mexico and all its creatures in the great BP spill could now be coming to a faucet near you.
The Associated Press dropped the exciting report yesterday:
Companies are investing billions of dollars to get at oil deposits scattered across North Dakota, Colorado, Texas and California. By 2015, oil executives and analysts say, the new fields could yield as much as 2 million barrels of oil a day — more than the entire Gulf of Mexico produces now.
This new drilling is expected to raise U.S. production by at least 20 percent over the next five years. And within 10 years, it could help reduce oil imports by more than half, advancing a goal that has long eluded policymakers.
Apparently, though engineers were once skeptical that flacking “wouldn't work to squeeze oil out fast enough to make it economical,” drillers have figured out a way to create more cracks in the deep-ground shale with different chemicals.
The Monterey Shale is often referred to as the largest oil field in the nation. What that now means for us Californians, is that — oh joy — we have the misfortune of having built our homes atop a freaking gold mine way beyond 49ers status, in the form 500 billion barrels of oil. According to the Money Map Press, predicting a breakthrough back in November:
“That's enough to eliminate U.S. crude imports for 7 decades at current usage levels. At today's prices, that adds up to $40 trillion worth of domestic oil…
What's kept it from being a superstar oil field is the very poor “recovery rate” of Monterey Shale wells.
Only around 10% of the crude available from each well can typically be brought to the surface.
But according to my Inner Circle contacts, recent developments in oil markets and drilling technologies could soon turn this under-tapped reserve into one of the hottest oil properties on the planet…”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched a study of the fracking process, and promises to examine every possible danger. But their previous go-aheads don't exactly show a clean record. The Huffington Post reports:
The study, announced in March, comes amid rising public concern about the safety of fracking, as ProPublica has been reporting for years. While it remains unclear whether the actual fracturing process has contaminated drinking water, there have been more than 1,000 reports around the country of contamination related to drilling, as we reported in 2008. In September 2010, the EPA warned residents of a Wyoming town not to drink their well water and to use fans while showering to avoid the risk of explosion. Investigators found methane and other chemicals associated with drilling in the water, but they had not determined the cause of the contamination.
We've contacted the EPA's SoCal division — waiting for a call back.
According to the Monterey County Weekly, though, the “2005 Energy Bill exempted fracking fluids — generally considered by the industry to be proprietary — from disclosure to the EPA.” In addition:
The Monterey County zoning administrator in October approved a use permit for Denver-based oil company Venoco to drill up to nine exploratory wells in the Hames Valley using fracking. An appeal filed by Ventana Conservation and Land Trust of Lockwood is slated to be heard by the county planning commission on March 30.
So what'll it be, California: Comeback economy/even richer oil companies or cancer-free H20?
Considering the billions at stake, we're thinking a little of the latter may be compromised for a whole lot of the former. But yeah — stay tuned. And hey, BP: Looks like you may not have to give up the monster Carson Refinery after all!