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The Battle to Ban Fracking in California

Sally Hayati, Environmental Priorities Network April 25, 2014 Modern hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is used to extract gas and oil trapped in low permeability tight formations, such as shale or sandstone, which cannot be extracted using conventional techniques. Water mixed with sand and chemicals is injected at high pressure into horizontal wells, fracturing the rock and releasing oil and gas trapped within. The oil extracted is light crude that resembles conventional oil and is processed similarly; it should not be confused with oil sands or tar sands oil. Strong opposition to fracking has arisen in the US due to its impact on pollution, quakes, the water supply, local physical and social infrastructures, and global warming. Fracking is associated with innumerable incidents in multiple states of groundwater pollution, 1 the setting off of seismic activity,2 and earth shifts and subsidence.3 Fracking a well requires up to 6 million gallons of water, which puts a strain on the states limited water supplies. Fracking also has consequences for global warming. First, it allows the extraction of fossil fuel that would otherwise be inaccessible. The US Energy Information Administration estimates that unconventional extraction methods like fracking increase exploitable reserves of oil and gas by 11% and 47%, respectively. 4 Burning this additional fossil fuel would add more CO2 to the atmosphere and increase global warming. Second, the primary component of natural gas, methane (CH4), escapes in large amounts from fracked wells.5 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has determined that compared to CO2, methane has 34 times the globalwarming potential (GWP) over 100 years and a GWP of 86 over a 20-year time frame.6 California Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), written by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and signed into law by Gov. Brown on September 20, 2013, is the first effort in California to regulate fracking.

Governor Jerry Browns position on oil and gas exploration and fracking in California
On January 6, 2014 the California Department of Conservation (DOC), Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) held a hearing to solicit public feedback on proposed SB 4 regulations. Protestors gathered for a spirited one-hour rally outside the hearing at the California State University, Long Beach. The main rally theme was explained by Alex Nagy of Food & Water Watch, Were having a funeral for Gov. Browns green legacy, because hes not the governor he says he is. Could Governor Moonbeam, our erstwhile idealistic and nontraditional leader,7 be supporting multinational fossil fuel corporations against the interests of Californians and the environment? Absolutely. As Exxon Mobil pointed out proudly on their website, Not long after taking office, Governor Jerry Brown felt compelled to remove two state officials who had been rejecting the vast majority of applications for drilling permits in California. He replaced them with regulators not instinctively hostile to oil and gas production.8 ;;,,;;; . 3 4 5 6 7 8
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As recounted by San Francisco Chronicle reporter David Baker, Speaking at a panel discussion on fracking, the head of Californias Department of Conservation, Mark Nechodom, [was given] five minutes [to discuss] his organizations position on fracking. I can probably save us five minutes, Nechodom replied. Gov. Brown supports hydraulic fracturing. He then stopped talking, letting his statement sink in with the audience. 9 Press-Telegram reported, In October, Brown said he saw no contradiction in calling climate change the worlds greatest existential challenge while refusing to impose a moratorium on fracking. I signed legislation that will create the most comprehensive environmental analysis of fracking to date, Brown said. It will take a year, year and a half, maybe a little longer. 10 While this study takes place, fracking will be allowed to proceed with little regulation. At the Long Beach rally, after hearing Gov. Brown denounced as a fracking advocate, one frustrated observer asked the speaker, Then which politicians can I rely on? Who can I put my trust in? After a pause, rally speakers weakly suggested that Al Muratsuchi of Assembly District 66 was a good ally, so far, and one or two others werent bad. But the real answer to this question is No one. There are no champions we can rely on to do the right thing for us; instead we must force the politicians we have to accept the solutions we need.

The oil and gas industry plans their Golden Future in California
What is the source of this enthusiasm for unconventional oil and gas sources on the part of Governor Brown? Recent oil industry literature enthused that 64% of the total recoverable shale oil in the USA (15.4 billion barrels) can be found in California, meaning that the state could soon become the center of the unconventional oil and gas industry in America.11 Exxon Mobil pointed out on their website, opening up the Monterey Shale field to full-scale production could provide overall economic benefits to the state [of California] of $1 trillion. One can only imagine the impact on Californias education system, social programs, infrastruc ture, and even energy-tech R&DSacramento tax collections could wipe out debt and deficits.12 Fracking, acidizing, and other unconventional extraction techniques are sold as answering the dreams of politicians, both in office and in some cases after passing through the revolving door to industry.13 The oil and gas industry claims enormous, far-reaching contributions to the American economy [will be] made possible by the innovative application of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.14 As Exxon-Mobil observes, The United States is now on track to becoming something few would have predicted just a few years ago a major energy exporter.15 Although the industry and supportive politicians emphasize US energy security as the reason for unconventional fossil fuel extraction, their eyes are primarily on profits from energy export. Natural gas prices in Europe and Asia are substantially higher than prices in the US. 16 This is an enormous new source of profit, and those who stand to gain are using everything in their power to make it happen. To secure these profits, the oil industry lobby, now the biggest in California, has spent an estimated $45.4 million in the state since 2009. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) alone spent $2,308,790 on lobbying in Sacramento in the first half of 2013, not including the amounts spent by oil companies themselves. The American Lung Association states the facts plainly: Just as tobacco companies pour millions into lobbying and public relations to deflect attention away from the dangerous health impacts of smoking, oil companies are investing a fortune on lobbying to undermine clean air policies and protect the market for their polluting products.17 Likewise, they pour millions into lobbying and PR to deflect the publics attention away from the reality of global warming, to protect their market from the renewable wind, water, and sun (WWS) sources. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

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Because of this influence, Senate Bill 4 was the only undefeated bill of several that were written to regulate or ban fracking, after it was weakened by industry-approved amendments.

Senate Bill 4 and regulation of the fossil fuel industry

Multiple countries, states, and cities have imposed bans or moratoriums on fracking. But under SB 4, well stimulation activities will proceed with little additional oversight or regulation until an independent scientific study on well stimulation treatments is completed, based on which final regulations will be put in place on January 1, 2015. California residents have reasons to be concerned. First, it is reckless to allow lightly regulated drilling until the study is complete; experts already understand many features of the environmental harm caused by fracking. A moratorium or strict regulations should be imposed now. Second, it is unclear how independent or scientific the study will be in light of industry influence. Scientific study is sorely needed, provided that independent researchers get open access to well sites and industry information, and study data and analyses are made public. But it was California that appointed an oil industry lobbyist to oversee an earlier project designed to protect the oceans, the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.18 Furthermore, in 2013 even the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was forced by industry and political pressure to systematically [disengage] from any research that could be perceived as questioning the safety of fracking or oil drilling .19 Because of these and other deficiencies more than 100 environmental groups signed a letter in 2013 demanding that Governor Jerry Brown refuse to sign SB 4 and immediately impose a moratorium on fracking in California.20 The final version of SB 4 will regulate another unconventional well-stimulation technique, variously called acid matrix stimulation, matrix acidization, acid jobs, and acidizing, which is more common than fracking in California. In California, because tectonic activity has folded and fractured shale deposits and filled the fractures with dense, less permeable sediment, fracking is often less effective than acidizing. South Coast Air Quality Management District21 event reports on unconventional extraction show there were 170 acidization, 95 gravel packing, and 11 fracking operations (less than 4% of the total) during a recent 3-month period. Occidental Petroleum Corp, a leading Monterey shale developer, has said that only a sixth of its California wells are fracked and the rest undergo acidizing. "All this anti-fracking language misses the target and I am very concerned it is a diversion," said Steve Shimek, of environmental group Monterey Coastkeeper. 22 Acid treatment uses powerful acids to open pores in the deposit, at pressures that are sometimes less but other times greater than fracture pressure.23 Acidizing uses less water than fracking. But the acids employed, particularly hydrofluoric (HF), are some of the most dangerous chemicals in industrial use.24 HF acid is extremely toxic; it can immediately and permanently damage lungs if inhaled, and a spill on skin is easily absorbed deep into the bodys tissues and changes bone calcium atoms to fluorine atoms. What makes HF attractive for this application is the fact that it corrodes glass, steel and rock. 25 The United Steelworkers have waged a battle to phase out the use of HF acid in oil refineries, calling it a risk too great for the steelworkers and the 26 million Americans living near refineries. 26 To supply acidizing operations, HF and HCl acids are being shipped by truck or train around the state and stored and mixed at well sites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that exposure to high levels of HF acid can occur if storage facilities or containers are damaged and the chemical is released due to natural disasters, accidents, or if HF acid is used as a chemical terrorism agent.27 How much HF acid is stored and at what concentration is it poured into wells? The oil companies wont tell us, claiming proprietary rights. California activists are beginning to place as much attention on acidizing as on fracking. There is a nationwide mandate to prevent environmental rules from interfering with oil and gas drilling. For example, in 1988 the EPA declared any substance that resulted from oil or gas well operations as non 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27
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hazardous, regardless of chemical makeup. Regulations for hazardous waste injection wells are much stricter than for oil and gas wells. Drilling waste is typically referred to as saltwater by inspectors and operators, even though up to 70% would be classified as toxic if it didnt come from an oil or gas field.28 The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Acts injection control program. Other exemptions for drilling are present in the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. 29 As mentioned in the first section, California politicians and officials are largely on-board with the pro-drilling mandate. Also the California Environmental Quality Act requires that if an environmental impact report identifies adverse environmental impacts, it must present mitigating measures or alternatives that fulfill most of the developers basic project objectives. This is how environmental regulations are sapped of any ability to stifle development. Herein lies the rub, because the Monterey Shale can be developed only with unconventional extraction technologies, such as fracking and acidizing. There is no environmentally safe alternative that will meet basic project objectives. For these reasons it will take a major effort to ensure that the SB 4 scientific study is fairly conducted, that SB 4 regulations are strong enough to reduce environmental damage, and that compliance is enforced, which is perhaps the most difficult task of all. US industrial regulations often rely on self-reporting to verify compliance: oversight is poor and monitoring infrequent. Lapses, accidents, and deceptive actions to evade regulation have few consequences, criminal prosecution is vanishingly small, and fines are low compared to potential savings from non-compliance.30 It is a fact that the only environment that the fossil fuel industry is concerned about is California's regulatory environment. The pollution of water, air, and soil with drilling chemicals, earthquakes caused by fracking or wastewater injection, the leakage of the greenhouse gas (GHG) methane, and the release of GHG CO2 from burning the oil and gasall are externalities, not reflected in fossil fuel production cost or market price. No industry self-regulates to minimize such external effects of operations, and every industry opposes government regulations to force them to do so. Their cost-tradeoff analysis even accepts the periodic inevitability of explosions, fires, and massive leaks that cause employee injury or death and destruction of company property such as wells, pipelines and drilling rigs, along with external damage to the environment. Investigators revealed, for instance, that British Petroleum (BP), running late and over budget, took many shortcuts that contributed to the disastrous Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill in 2010.31 In addition they operated with full knowledge that they had more structural risks, including poor well design and inadequate well cement. Industry never pays the full external cost of environmental disasters, which tips their cost-benefit analysis towards greater risk taking. Clearly, BP deemed the cost of mitigation measures to be greater than the hypothetical cost benefit of avoiding disasters. When disasters inevitably occur, a powerful corporation can rely on political connections, a favorable legal system, and control of the public message to limit liability and longterm impact. Then they continue with business as usual, just as BP is now doing. This outlook was evident on the website of the Conference for Tight Reservoirs California, 2013 (Driving Commercial, Unconventional Oil Production In The Monterey, Kreyenhagen And Wider San Joaquin, Santa Maria And LA Basins), California's unique regulatory environment needs to be addressed and resolved to ensure unconventional operations can go ahead as planned The presence of regulators [at the conference] will allow for improved relations and communication between oil companies and regulatory bodies in order to enable them to work together in pursuit of smoother operations.32 Exxon Mobil for one is optimistic that SB 4 will not impose a burden on their drilling operations: An initial draft [of SB 4 rules] suggests a desire by California officials to allow safe, responsible energy development from unconventional oil and gas sources like shale, rather than using regulatory processes to stifle such development. 33 They may get help for this from DOGGR, an agency that has had a cozy relationship with the oil industry for nearly 100 years, according to Bill Allayaud of the Environmental Working Group.34 30 31 32 33 34

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Beyond Senate Bill 4

Why unconventional well stimulation methods should be banned There are many reasons that technologies like fracking and acidizing can and will result in environmental damage, even if energetically policed by the best possible SB 4 regulations. This reality provides added motivation to the effort to ban, not regulate, fracking, acidizing, and all unconventional extraction methods. First, several harmful aspects of fracking and acidizing procedures are fundamental to the process and cannot be regulated away, as follows: (a) As Carbon Tracker pointed out,35 burning all proven fossil fuel reserves (defined as deposits with a 90% chance of being extracted) would release at least five times more CO2 than we could add to the atmosphere and still hope to keep global warming to no more than 2 C. Yet modern fracking and acidizing allow the extraction of significantly more fossil fuel than was included in the 2010 statistics.36 Climate scientist James Hansen estimated in 2013 that burning all fossil fuel reserves would warm land areas on average about 36F and would make most of the planet uninhabitable by humans.37 Banning unconventional well stimulation technologies such as fracking and acidizing is therefore necessary to achieve the larger objective of keeping more fossil fuel in the ground. The global warming consequences of fracking go even beyond this horror scenario because fracking creates significant leakage of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. If California allows exploitation of the Monterey formation, it will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, as is the intended goal. (b) Ohio earthquakes in March 2014 are the first documented cases demonstrating that hydraulic fracturing itself can cause earthquakes.38 More generally, the disposal of fracking wastewater in deep injection wells is known to set off seismic activity even in locations that have had no known past quakes. More than 300 earthquakes above magnitude 3.0 occurred in the US from 2010-2012, compared with an average rate of 21 events per year from 1967-2000.39 There can be long delays between the time of injection and the onset of seismicity, so we cannot know the effect an injection will have until it is a done deal. Furthermore, injectionenabled earthquakes can be triggered by naturally occurring earthquakes, even from areas far from the injection well.40 We know that California is susceptible both to natural and injection-induced earthquakes, a potentially deadly combination. At geothermal power plants near the Salton Sea, for example, earthquakes have been caused by brine extraction and injection, and quakes can even be predicted based on the amount of brine involved. A magnitude 2.1 earthquake matching the description of micro earthquakes caused by fracking wastewater disposal occurred in the Baldwin Hills on August 27, 2013.41 Clearly, having large numbers of injection wells could increase earthquake activity in California. But if wastewater cannot be disposed of through ground injection, what will be done with it? (c) Between 4 and 6 million gallons of water are used every time a gas or oil well is fracked, and California is in the middle of a historic drought. It has been claimed that the switch from coal to natural gas power plants will save 25 to 50 times more water than is required to extract the gas.42 Thermoelectric power generation (burning fossil fuel but also concentrated solar) requires large quantities of water and as a whole accounts for about 40% of the freshwater withdrawals in the US.43 Natural gas power plants (combined cycle) require only half as much water as coal-fired power plants. However, even if true, only a few small coal-fired power plants operate in California (one in Long Beach), so little water saving could be achieved in-state from replacing coal with natural gas. 37 38 39 40 , see for full technical paper. 41 42 43
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(d) Acidizing must use powerful and dangerous chemicals such as hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid, requiring high-risk acid transport and storage around the state, and injection disposal deep in the ground. Second, current best practices and state-of-the-art technologies are inadequate for preventing drilling leaks and spills and toxic chemical migration, even if followed to the letter and policed by stiff regulations. New technological breakthroughs would be needed to do better. For example: (a) Wellbore cement failures and casing leaks are inevitable; cement modeling and leak & failure detection are inadequate; repair is difficult and expensive; all these are still active areas of research. 44,45 (b) Fracking always results in greater methane leakage than conventional drilling, because the wells are larger, take more time to drill, require more venting, and produce more flowback waste.46 This presents a global warming hazard because methane has 86 times the global-warming potential of CO2 over a 20-year time frame. A 2011 study led by Prof R. W. Howarth of Cornell found that 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the lifetime of a well, 30-100% more than for conventional gas.47 The EPAs 2009 estimate of methane leakage was 2.4% of gross U.S. natural gas production;48 but in April 2013 they reduced this estimate. Then a study published in October 2013 by 15 scientists led by Harvard Prof. S. M. Miller found that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel extraction and processing are likely a factor of two or greater than cited in existing studies These results cast doubt on the US EPAs recent decision to downscale its estimate of national natural gas emissions by 2530%.49 CIRES and NOAA scientists recently measured methane emission over the Uintah Basin and showed that the natural gas field can leak 6-12% of its gas production.50 In fact, a 2012 study by Prof S. W. Pacala of Princeton calculated that because of methane leaks, the conversion from gasoline to natural gas vehicles leads to greater radiative forcing of the climate.51 Better regulation, such as EPAs mandate to use reduced emission completions, can reduce but not eliminate the leakage.52 In addition to global warming hazards, methane poses a danger of explosion even at low levels. The California Public Resources Code states that "methane gas hazards ... are a clear and present threat to public health and safety" and that "due to the cost and complexity of methane hazard mitigations, property owners and local governments are often unable to mitigate these hazards." 53 Third, the technical challenges of fracking and acidizing in California go beyond standard well failures, and environmental damage is sure to occur as a consequence of experimentation and cost optimization. The oil and gas industry is in uncharted waters. Companies are drilling wells and they are testing technology, admitted Rock Zierman, chief executive officer of the California Independent Petroleum Association, a Sacramento-based trade group representing about 530 oil producers, in a telephone interview.54 Jason Marshall, the California Conservation Department's chief deputy director explains that It may take an advancement in technology or methodology to unlock the oil production potential of the formation. As stated on the Tight Oil conference website, The Monterey shale is a challenging proposition. Bestowed with geological proper ties both unique and perplexing the key to exploiting the formation to its full potential is yet to be found. How will the rocks respond to fraccing [sic]? Should they be acidized? Is a combination of both most effective? Californian shales are not uniform. Some areas will react differently to others and choosing the right, or wrong, strategy can have a huge impact.55 Well operators will experiment with variations and optimizations in a quest to extract the,, 46 47 48 49; 50 51 52 53 54 55
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most oil and gas at the lowest cost as quickly as possible. It is difficult to write regulations that anticipate and include emerging extraction techniques that will be developed and modified over time. Beyond bans on unconventional drilling technologies Even successful bans on the technologies of fracking and acidizing wont guarantee that unconventional oil and gas stay in the ground for long. As mentioned, new drilling technologies using somewhat different techniques are difficult to anticipate and include in regulations, and will be slipped in under regulation barriers. Continuous battles must be fought to enforce existing bans and to extend them to the latest technologies. Also, in addition to stopping unconventional extraction we need to keep approximately 80% of conventional fossil fuel reserves in the ground, if we are to limit CO2 emissions and keep the average global temperature rise to no more than 2 C. Other tactics to keep fossil fuels in the ground must therefore be pursued concurrently. One of the most powerful is EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, including CO2 and methane.56 The EPA has the obligation to regulate or limit the emissions of CO2 and other potent greenhouse gases, and no congressional action is required. But because of industry pressure it has been slow to act, only recently releasing its first rule limiting carbon emissions from new power plants. Strict limits on CO2 emissions that decline over time could reduce fossil fuel use more quickly and dependably than market mechanisms such as cap and trade, fee and dividend, or carbon taxes. It should therefore be a top priority to pressure Obama and the EPA to act. Alongside this, we need tactics to promote rapid large-scale implementation of clean energy from wind, water, and sun and energy efficient technology and buildings. One of the most promising is the Big Green Buy.57 This campaign would seek to reorient government procurement at all levels, city to federal, away from fossil fuel energy toward renewable WWS energy and green technologies that promote energy efficiency, water conservation, recyclability, etc. Universities, prosperous churches, and other large institutions could likewise be included in the demand to buy green in all new procurements. This easily understood, highly actionable, and local campaign should appeal to students and concerned people who are not now activists. Its every success, small and large, will reduce reliance on fossil fuels, reduce carbon emissions, increase the production and reduce the cost of green technologies. For that reason, it should supplement or supplant all ongoing divestment efforts. Other promising tactics to promote clean energy are renewable energy coops,58 the imposition of more aggressive requirements on utilities to supply renewable energy, municipalizing those that resist,59 and enhanced support for rooftop solar subsidies, unlimited net energy metering, and possibly feed-in-tariffs. To succeed in any of these efforts, the environmentalist movement must grow into a militant and broad mass movement. Environmentalists must therefore expand their focus to include issues that are not environmental in the narrow sense. For example, how will high unemployment and a sluggish economy affect our ability to enlist Californians in a battle to stop fracking, when operators are promising jobs and prosperity? Environmental problems share common roots with other economic and political struggles faced by the 99% today. We face even fiercer, more organized, and smarter opposition than some of us yet realize. There are no short cuts; no politician or green capitalists can fix the system. If we connect the dots and build solidarity, we will gain strength in numbers and develop a better understanding of what is to be done. Christian Parenti, 58,,; 59

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