by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Democrats in California’s state legislature are waking up to the reality that hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, occurs in the Golden state. On April 10, the California Senate’s Natural Resources Committee voted 5 to 3 for a bill that would require oil and gas companies to give nearby property owners 30 days notice before using hydraulic fracturing, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The bill now heads to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. Fracking extracts natural gas and oil from shale by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals.
Ah, but fracking rarely occurs in California, according to California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. The Division continues to insist that fracking is not common in the state, a recent Environmental Working Group (EWG) report states. Despite the Division’s insistence about the rarity of fracking in California, it seeks funds to “oversee the practice.” In 2010, the division asked for and received over $3 million and 17 new positions to expand its regulatory program.
EWG found documentation that fracking has taken place in at least six California counties: Kern, Los Angeles, Monterey, Sacramento, Santa Barbara and Ventura. However, the “exact number of fracked wells in the state is unknown, but it is clear that the total likely reaches into the thousands.” Halliburton representatives told EWG last fall that 50 to 60 percent of the new wells drilled in Kern County were fracked. The five most productive oil fields in Kern County had 1,527 new wells drilled in 2009, according to the 2009 annual report of the Division of Oil and Gas.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) about the lease granted to “sensitive lands” in California for oil and gas development without conducting a full analysis of the environmental effects. Last September the Hollister field office of the BLM held an oil and gas lease sale of about 2,700 acres of land in Fresno and Monterey counties. The lawsuit alleges that the BLM “ignored or downplayed the impacts the lease sale and subsequent development would have upon endangered and sensitive species in the area, including the San Joaquin kit fox and the California condor.” The lawsuit also alleges that fracking would be the “likely method” used to extract oil and gas.
The EWG report found that California has never assessed the risks to the state’s groundwater. Just one fracked well, according to tests the EWG conducted, can use anywhere from 100,000 to 1.5 million gallons of water. Water is an often contentious issue in California, and a precious resource. California is the most populous state, and a state that contains a region, the San Joaquin Valley, that is considered to be the agriculture center of the world. Farming requires water. California is also a state that periodically suffers from droughts which leaves farmers and residents dealing with water cut backs. However, the oil and gas industry “suffers form no such cut backs,” as the report states.