Residents in SLO and throughout California are facing a major fork in the road. Will the Golden State continue to exclude hydraulic fracturing or ”fracking” of natural gas and oil from state regulation? Is now the time to establish clean, renewable energy (solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, wind and tidal sources) as the permanent replacement for these polluting fossil fuels? Your answer depends on who is telling the narrative. As a fellow docent for the Northern Elephant Seals at the Piedras Blancas Rookery in San Simeon constantly reminds me, you are only as good as your sources. We too often see things and people not as they are but as we are. As a Yiddish comic once stated, a fly stuck in horse manure believes the world is made out of it.
California’s Monterey Shale is a 1,700 square mile deposit that could contain 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil, or two thirds of the nation’s reserve. Fracking is a hydraulic process which forces millions of gallons of pressurized water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to fracture shale to release gas and oil. A pipe encased in cement brings it to the surface; the well’s toxic wastewater is left in the ground or disposed in already over loaded waste water plants. California currently ranks fourth in the nation’s leading oil production states. A study by Western States Petroleum Institute has optimistically estimated that fracking California’s shale deposit would result in 500,000 jobs and 4.5 billion dollars in public revenue. After debating initiatives to regulate fracking, the state’s Democrat-controlled state legislature recently defeated the majority and tabled several for later debate.
Money and lobbying by the fossil fuel industries had the greatest influence. Local frackers also claim that there have been no problems with their sixty year-old industry, but no one knows the location and condition of existing wells outside drillers, and they are not talking in our laissez faire, deregulated environment.
Many state representatives were absent for the vote on fracking regulations last June. Those present said no to reasonable demands for drillers: To file a written notice before drilling, a scientific study of fracking’s environmental impact, including the testing of nearby groundwater before and after a well had been installed, and the creation of a web site to identify fracking sites and safe distances between wells and human habitation. Above all, pro – environmental legislators demanded inspection, full disclosure and regulation of the industry which releases deadly, flammable gasses, methane and other toxic chemicals into the ground, water table and atmosphere.
Fully conscious of his state’s trillion dollar deficit, high rate of unemployment and need for energy independence, Governor Jerry Brown has declared the need for more scientific data on fracking. On the other hand, environmentalists demand that fossil fuels with a carbon footprint damaging our health and environment should be left in the ground. California already has a Renewable Portfolio Standard, passed in 2011, which requires the state to use 33 percent renewable energy by 2020. We are blessed with the natural resources, but not yet with the political will to completely implement safe, alternative energy.
California must learn from the examples of other states that have implemented fracking on a greater scale. As residents of this mighty state, we must ask questions about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing: Will we replicate their problems with environmental toxicity? Can fracking ever be safe if the cement casings of extraction pipes always leak? Could earthquakes create a catastrophe for fracking? (Yes is the answer) Does fracking induce earth quakes? (Yes, too) How many more oil spills and gas explosions do we need? Do we need additional severely polluted regions beyond L.A. and the San Joaquin Valley? Should we transfer the subsidies for fossil fuels to clean energy? How do we add in the military, health, and environmental costs to the price of fossil fuel? Does fracking sacrifice our already endangered and shrinking water supplies? Should our paid political representatives absent themselves from this important debate? Should we? Where is the balance between growth, safety and environmental health for all living creatures? If not now, when? Please go to the web site on fracking and learn much more.
Read more about Fracking in California at : http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/california_fracking
After thirty years of college teaching and writing in Ohio this is Ed Miggins’ retirement column. It will tell the story of the people, places and issues in the “cool” or the Central Coast of San Luis Obispo County, CA