EID Testifies on Proposed Fracking Ban at Butte Co. Planning Commission Meeting

Well-funded and radical anti-energy activists are fond of going into communities, spreading misinformation and using scare tactics to convince local environmental organizations to pursue “bans” on hydraulic fracturing. This is especially true in communities where fracking has never happened and probably never will due to inappropriate geology or a lack of hydrocarbon resources altogether.  It’s much easier to scare people about something they have no direct experience with. This has been true in the state of Vermont, and also in Marin, Santa Barbara, San Benito and Butte Counties in California. None of these counties employ fracking and some have no oil or gas activity at all.

Last week, the Butte County Planning Commission met in Oroville and spent several hours discussing amendments to the Butte County Code that would “ban” hydraulic fracturing, even though, as one of those testifying pointed out, the discussion was about as relevant as a discussion of banning surfing in the (landlocked) county. Though such a “ban” would have no direct impact on Butte County land use or employment, EID was on hand to ensure that Commissioners understood that their action would send the wrong message. The Commissioners chose not to recommend the “ban” to the Board of Supervisors.

EID’s testimony is below:

My name is Dave Quast and I’m the California Director of Energy in Depth, which is an education and research project of the California Independent Petroleum Association. EID is focused on educating the public about the realities of energy development in California and the routine and well-understood practice of fracking – particularly in areas like Butte Co. where there is no significant oil and gas activity and, of course, no fracking.

It is natural for Butte Co. residents who have heard activist-generated misinformation about fracking to be concerned, and unfortunately some of this misinformation made its way into the Commission’s Oct. 23 Staff Report.  I’m happy to have a few minutes to share some facts:

Hydraulic fracturing has been in regular and routine use in the U.S. since the 1940s – more than 1.2 million times so far without the negative environmental impacts identified as concerns in the Staff Report. It is a heavily regulated process; in many jurisdictions in California it is subject to regulation by nearly 20 regulatory agencies.

Contrary to what is often implied, fracking is not an ongoing process. In California a typical fracturing job takes from several hours to two days. That’s it. Then the well produces, often for 20,30 or even 40 years. Due to our complex geology, our fracturing tends to be vertical and not horizontal. In addition, far more than 90% of these fracturing jobs take place in Western Kern Co. far from population centers or potable water sources.

Water is a huge issue for all Californians so let me focus on that.

First, I want to make it clear that the Obama Administration’s Dept. of the Interior, Dept. of Energy, the EPA, the Bureau of Land Management as well as Gov. Jerry Brown’s Dept. of Conservation and Division of Oil and Gas have ALL confirmed that there has not been a single case of water contamination directly linked to hydraulic fracturing. Not one.

Second, anti-energy routinely mislead about fracking and water use. Back east, where fracking uses millions of gallons of water, it still accounts for less than 1% of the water use in the areas where it occurs.  In California we use much, much less water. An average hydraulic fracturing job uses about 130,000 gallons of water, which is about 1/5 the water in an Olympic sized swimming pool and so represents an almost negligible use compared to almost any other.

For perspective, all of the hydraulic fracturing that took place in 2013 in California uses 303 acre-feet of water. Agriculture used 34 million acre-feet, and Californians used 8 million keeping their lawns green. Again, 303 acre-feet. Not 303,000.

You might also not be aware that oil production is mostly water production. In fact, 15x more water comes out of a rock formation than oil. This is water that wasn’t previously in the water cycle. This water is treated and is either recycled and used for enhanced oil recovery, disposed of back into the formation cleaner than when it came out, or sold to agriculture for irrigation helping to mitigate the drought.

As far as the use of chemicals, I would simply note that fracking fluid is 99% water, .5% sand and .5 chemicals, most of which are already in people homes. The industry has voluntarily disclosed the chemicals used in the process on the FracFocus.com site for several years, and mandatory disclosure is now the law in California. This part of the process, like all others, is heavily regulated.

Concerns are often raised about earthquakes, but state regulators and the State Geologist have confirmed that felt seismic events have not happened here as a result of hydraulic fracturing – ever.

Stanford geophysicist Mark Zoback explained to the US Senate why any felt earthquakes are very unlikely when he noted that the amount of energy released by a fracture is the equivalent of a gallon of milk falling off a kitchen counter (thousands of feet under the surface).

Finally, as your Staff Report notes, there is no fracking happening or proposed in Butte Co. making this ordinance some sort of symbolic gesture. I would remind you, however, that nearly half a million of our fellow Californians rely on the oil and gas industry for their jobs – and it is precisely in the areas where fracking does take place and its safety is well understood that there isn’t notable anti-fracking activity.

I also want to quickly mention that the reason the US leads the world in carbon emission reductions over the last 20 years is because natural gas – which requires fracking – has replaced coal in many of the nations power plants. In addition, when we develop oil in CA under the strictest environmental protections in the country, it means that we import less oil – by rail and ship – from countries without these protections. So fracking is an environmental boon as well.

I would encourage the Commission to study this issue further before acting. Study peer reviewed science. Speak with state and federal regulators. In so doing, you will recognize that there is a scientific consensus that not only is hydraulic fracturing is fundamentally safe, but that it is driving us toward a cleaner climate and energy independence.

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