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No fracking way: Keeping hydraulic fracturing out of California

Posted May. 21, 2013 / Posted by: Ross Hammond, Senior Campaigner, Climate & Energy Program

Thanks to new high-tech advances, California is on the verge of another oil boom: a fracking boom. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is commonly known, involves drilling horizontal wells and pumping toxic fluids into them at high pressure, which cracks the rocks to allow the trapped shale oil to escape.

The problems with fracking are enormous and well documented in places like Pennsylvania and North Dakota, where an oil and natural gas boom has meant a dramatic increase in the practice. Pollution, spills, accidents, earthquakes and property damage have all been tied to this dirty and destructive practice.

Right now, California doesn’t require companies to report when or where they’re fracking, or what chemicals they’re pumping into the ground. So Friends of the Earth has joined Californians Against Fracking, a coalition working to stop this misguided attempt to pry more filthy oil out of the bedrock of our state.

Here’s why we’re saying “No Fracking Way” to Big Oil in California:

Fracking creates serious water concerns. The process involves injecting massive amounts of water, chemicals and sand deep underground. Here in California, we don’t have water to spare for fracking. The industry claims they use between 80,000 and 300,000 gallons of water per well, though that figure is likely low. In a state where drought is common and water a scarce and prized resource, giving away our water for oil extraction seems short-sighted at best.

And scarcity isn’t the only water concern. Those chemicals I mentioned earlier -- many of them known carcinogens -- are another huge problem with fracking. Some of these toxins return to the surface in wastewater and are disposed of in evaporation pits, which can cause serious problems when they leak. And they do leak. One investigation conducted by ProPublica found more than 1,000 cases of water contamination near drilling sites.

But most of them are injected along with the rest of the wastewater deep underground, where they can contaminate groundwater and aquifers, poisoning what fresh water reserves the state has.

Some of California’s shale oil is as filthy as Canadian Tar Sands oil. California’s shale oil is incredibly dirty, carbon-intensive stuff. In fact, shale oil is so dirty that legally, we won’t even be able to refine it in California, much less use it. Thanks to the state’s new “low-carbon fuel standard,” fuel producers must lower the carbon intensity of all fuels sold in California … which means we’ll pollute our land, air and water all for some other states’ benefit.

But even if we don’t burn this filthy fuel here, just extracting it is bad enough. Drilling and fracking contribute to serious air pollution problems as well as climate change. Some of the fluid in the fracking process turns into gas at high pressures, which then vents to the surface. And, like the wastewater, that gas is filled with cancer-causing fracking chemicals. According to a report from Food and Water Watch, one recent study “found that people living within half a mile of fracking operations face significantly higher cancer risk, and higher risk of developing other health problems because of air pollution, compared to people who live farther away.”

Fracking can increase seismic activity. The journal of the American Geophysical Union published a paper documenting the link between the fracking process and increased seismic activity in areas with known faults. California is one of the most earthquake prone states in the country. The companies assure us that it’s fine -- they won’t drill into any known faults. But the Northridge earthquake, which killed 50 people in 1994, happened on an unknown fault. And no one knows what will happen when companies start injecting massive amounts of fracking fluids into unknown faults.

Claims that fracking will provide a big boost to California’s economy may not actually be true. A recent study released by the University of Southern California claims that fracking California’s Monterey Shale could increase the state’s economy by 14%, creating half a million jobs in the next two years. However, those rosy projections may not be entirely accurate. In fact, the main study cited was financed and run by -- you guessed it -- the oil companies. DeSmogBlog did some investigating and found that the report was funded at least in part by the Western States Petroleum Association. One of the co-authors is currently employed by Big Oil. Perhaps more damning is the fact that the study wasn’t peer-reviewed -- the outside reviewers who did look at the report also had ties to Big Oil -- and was published “in association with” a PR firm.

Three bills working their way through the California legislature right now would put a moratorium on fracking in the state. We’re calling on our supporters to urge their legislators to support A.B. 1301, the strongest of the three. We’re also pushing them to reject AB7, a bill that would allow fracking to continue in California and would keep fracking chemicals secret from the public.

California has a chance to be out in front of the fight against fracking by declaring a moratorium on this dangerous extraction method. Only a few states -- New York, New Jersey and Vermont -- have already enacted bans or moratoriums on fracking.

Now it’s our turn. Friends of the Earth and our new coalition will be fighting hard in the California legislature to get a moratorium passed, and we’ll be helping rally Californians statewide to call for this important ban.

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