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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

CA sued over fracking – access to U.S.’s largest oil shale formation in doubt. Is there a better way?

Five environmental groups filed a lawsuit this week that would force California regulators to study the possible effects on groundwater and air quality before allowing companies use hydraulic fracturing.

The suit alleges that state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, which reviews proposed fracking projects, has violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not requiring an environmental impact report for them.

While oil companies have fracked wells in California for decades, its use within the state is on the rise, and the stakes are high.  California may have the nation's largest oil shale formation - the Monterey Shale, which lies beneath much of Central California. The Monterey could hold more than 15 billion barrels of oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The lawsuit provides me with a bit of an I-told-you-so moment. The issues at the heart of the California lawsuit flow from the use of water and chemicals for fracking. On September 25, I had the honor of delivering the keynote address  at shale gas event in Washington, D.C. that was hosted by The Howard Baker Forum and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  In my talk, I called on the gas industry to adopt an aspirational goal of eliminating the use of water and chemicals from shale gas development.   Among a long list of reasons why this is in the public interest and in the financial interest of oil and gas companies, I gave this example:

Titan Oil and Gas is proposing to drill one exploratory unconventional well in Kern County, California.  Recently, (the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources) issued a finding of no significant impact for that single well. In response, The Center for Biological Diversity submitted this petition challenging the finding – an 83-page compendium of issues and allegations against fracking. 

The gas industry can either spend the next decade responding to 83 pages of charges, and perhaps fight the battle well-by-well. Or they can change the entire fracking paradigm and choose a way that can reconcile both society's and industry's goals. 

It will take vision – and the ability to imagine a fundamentally different approach.  But the stakes justify the efforts.

With access to the U.S.’s largest oil shale field in doubt; with moratoria posing serious access challenges for oil and gas producers; and with persistent concerns about the U.S. fracking experience in the EU, China, Canada, and South Africa, there is, as Maria van der Hoeven, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, has warned, “a very real possibility that public opposition…will halt…fracking in its tracks.”

The stakes are indeed high. Will the industry go beyond incremental progress and change the fracking paradigm?


  1. What needs studying is the obvious things....I live in Arlington TX and when I found out this drilling was to be by my family, I studied the process full time for a good two years and in a nutshell, the technology is not there yet to do this safely by people. Even if they use electric instead of diesel rigs to drill, the diesel compressors and generators spew VOC's. During fracturing, the sand catching pillow case/socks fail to mitigate toxic, silica dust exposing workers and residents/students into the neighborhoods/schools. And during flowback, even if they use Green Completions equipment (separator/pipeline), the topflow at the beginning stages of flowback allow hydrocarbons to escape from the OPEN HATCH flowback tanks. They need to use gas buster (degasser) equipment, but it is not mandated by any local,state or federal laws so even the EPA missed that one, so the un-sale-able/dirty gas is being vented into our airshed. There aren't any rules either to mandate that the wells get flowed back right away after fracturing. The 3 wells frac'd by my house last month by the Cowboy Stadium will not be flowed back this year until the pipeline is in place, and so stale flowback (sour well) with dangerous sulfides emissions are very likely. This happened once before at another Chesapeake (Lynn Smith) drill site last March where 911 had to dispatch paramedics for Jean Stephens who was stricken in her own parking lot.

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