Monday, March 05, 2012

Good Morning California! How Long Have Gas Companies Been Fracking Around In Your Backyard?

By Theodora Filis

What most Californians don’t realize is that fracking has been taking place throughout their state for over sixty years. US towns and communities have been in the midst of an unprecedented gas drilling boom, using a process called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." With each new drill comes frightening reports of poisoned drinking water, polluted air, mysterious animal deaths, industrial disasters and explosions.

Fracking involves injecting thousands of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into the earth at extremely high pressure and speeds to fracture underground shale deposits thus releasing natural gas and oil. Homeowners living near fracked wells have been complaining that their drinking water has been contaminated with methane, a key component in natural gas.

California does not track the number of fracked wells, nor their location. The state's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) said that it "does not believe that fracking is widely used" in the state. More recently, DOGGR reported, that the practice is "used for a brief period to stimulate production of oil and gas wells," but added in its report, that "the division doesn't believe the practice is nearly as widespread as it is in the Eastern US for shale gas production."

Today, Californians are waking up to the unfortunate reality that hundreds of locations around their state, including nearby Monterey County, have been fracked. In an article, published by Mother Jones last week, said that according to a report released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), fracking is much more common in California than the regulators would like you to believe.

According to Mother Jones, a team of EWG investigators has unearthed dozens of industry documents and academic papers indicating that the practice has been going on in at least six California counties for 60 years or more. And evidence suggests that it's still going strong: "We asked Halliburton, 'What percentage of wells are you fracking in Kern County, for example?,'" says Bill Allayud, EWG's California Director of Governmental Affairs. "And they said 50 to 60 percent of oil wells." A 2008 paper by the Halliburton subsidiary Pinnacle Technologies detailed the widespread current use of fracking in California.

Even after sixty years, the state of California is only now learning about fracking and how attractive their land is to gas companies. Officials, in Monterey County, have given the OK for a Denver based oil company, Venoco, to drill exploratory wells in the Hames Valley, using fracking technology. Hames Valley, home to oil drilling, will now see a boom in gas drilling.

DOGGR reported, it does not know where and how often fracking occurs in California because budget constraints have prevented them from developing regulations to address the practice. While the agency requires drilling permits and enforces groundwater protections, once those permits are acquired, drillers are allowed to employ techniques such as fracking to get the oil out of the ground without additional reporting.

California legislators have introduced a bill that would include some of the most stringent fracking laws in the country – if passed. The bill did get passed off the Assembly floor, last week, and is now being sent to the state Senate committee for approval.