Environment California Anti-Fracking Video Peddles Long-Debunked Claims
An activist group called “Environment California” (EC) recently released a cartoon video that purports to explain the “science” behind the routine and well-understood technology of hydraulic fracturing. Instead, the video spreads misinformation from its opening sentence to its closing credits.
For anyone who is familiar with EC’s cousin “Environment America,” such stunts won’t be any surprise. EID has previously documented the group’s propensity to make unfounded, deceptively sourced and objectively false claims about hydraulic fracturing.
Let’s have a look at EC’s egregious claims:
CLAIM: Fracking is a “new, dangerous form of oil and gas drilling.”
FACT: This is quite an impressive amount of misinformation packed into a single phrase. Fracking is not new, it is not dangerous and it is not drilling.
Hydraulic fracturing has been in use in oil and gas operations in the United States since the 1940s, and has been employed – without the negative environmental impacts claimed by activists – more than 1.2 million times in the U.S. since then. It is, therefore, not a “new” technique by any reasonable definition.
Also, hydraulic fracturing is a well completion technique, which we in California call a “well stimulation” technique. It has nothing to do with drilling. All wells are drilled. After drilling is completed and drilling equipment is moved from the well, some percentage of wells – in California, a minority – are hydraulically fractured to stimulate the flow of hydrocarbons into the wellbore. The fact that EC doesn’t understand one of the most basic facts about the fracking process tells you what you need to know about its commitment to “science.”
Finally…dangerous? Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who holds a Ph.D. from Stanford and is former chair of the Physics Department at MIT, in a conversation with the New York Daily News, called fracking:
“…climate-friendly, environmentally safe and economically stimulating” and added: “Which is just what America and New York need.”
NOTE: This drawing from EC’s video shows a horizontal well at what appears to be almost shovel-depth below the ground (and mere feet below an aquifer). In fact, owing to our unique “folded and faulted” geology, California doesn’t have long strata of shale that are conducive to horizontal drilling, so we do not use that technique here. In addition, aquifers are typically a couple of hundred feet below the ground, but hydraulic fracturing takes places thousands of feet – sometimes miles – below aquifers, beneath billions of tons of impermeable rock. EC is practicing flat-out deception from its very first image.
CLAIM: “[C]hemicals can spill and toxic waste can leak … and toxic pollutants can come up through the well.”
FACT: Along with Energy Secretary Moniz, current and past federal and state regulators and scientists have repeatedly affirmed the fundamental safety of hydraulic fracturing. In fact, two peer-reviewed studies have noted that it is not physically plausible for fracking to contaminate groundwater. Additionally, the U.S. Government Accountability Office wrote in 2012:
“[R]egulatory officials we met with from eight states – Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas – told us that, based on state investigations, the hydraulic fracturing process has not been identified as a cause of groundwater contamination within their states.”
California’s Department of Conservation has made the same affirmation, but you wouldn’t know it from EC’s video. Additionally, it is because of the shale revolution and hydraulic fracturing that the U.S. leads the world in carbon emission reductions. This is good news that EC conveniently ignored.
CLAIM: “The chemicals [used in fracking] can be anything from endocrine disruptors to hydrofluoric acid to carcinogens to other cancer-causing chemicals.”
FACT: Again, the fundamental safety of fracking over its 65-plus year history is well established. Many of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are for sale at Home Depot and are no different than those under your kitchen sink (or, in the case of hydrochloric acid, in the local swimming pool where your children swim). It is the level of exposure that makes a chemical benign or dangerous. Even dihydrogen monoxide (water) can be fatal if over-ingested.
Hydraulic fracturing fluid is 99 percent water, 0.5 percent sand (as a proppant) and 0.5 percent chemical additives, which have various properties intended to protect, not damage, the well and public health. You can click here to see a list of chemicals often used in the process and their purpose. And, of course, anyone wishing to learn about fracking on any particular well can find that information at www.fracfocus.org. Funny, EC forgot to mention that as well.
CLAIM: “Each frack job uses an average of a million gallons of water.”
FACT: This claim is absolutely false with regard to California wells. The average hydraulic fracturing job in California uses less than 150,000 gallons of water. We previously provided perspective on this number:
While activists try to scare the public about “millions of gallons” of water, the amount of water actually used in hydraulic fracturing is a fraction of a percent of total water consumption. In fact, data clearly show that shale development accounts for only 0.3 percent of total freshwater consumption in the United States.
If you read that a typical hydraulic fracturing job in the eastern U.S. could use four million gallons of water, it may sound alarming. Consider, however, that New York City consumes four million gallons of water every six minutes. Four millions gallons is 1.3 percent of the amount of water used every day in car washes. Four million gallons is also the amount of water that just one golf course uses during one summer month.
However, in… California, an average fracking job requires 130,000 gallons of water (about one-fifth of an Olympic-sized pool). This is not necessarily a critical distinction because the water is treated and recycled (and, in California, water is often clean enough to be sold to agriculture for irrigation, helping to mitigate California’s drought).
Click here to see an infographic, which provides additional perspective on hydraulic fracturing and water use in California.
CLAIM: “They inject it deep back into the ground, and guess what? Scientists have now linked that deep well injection of fracking ‘waste’ to earthquakes.”
FACT: The “it” referenced above, according to EC’s narrative, is “toxic waste.” In reality, this is the water produced in the oil development process – a basic fact that a truly informed environmental organization should understand. If this produced water is not recycled and used for enhanced oil recovery operations – or sold to agriculture to help mitigate drought – it is reinjected, cleaner than it was before, back into the formation. Often its reinjected into the same formation it was just removed from. There is no production of “toxic waste.”
As Rock Zierman CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association recently explained:
“There are thousands of fully permitted injection wells used by the oil and gas industry in California. The water reinjected is simply the water that was naturally in the rock and comingled with the oil and natural gas. The oil and gas are removed from the water and it is reinjected back from where it came, cleaner than it was when it was initially removed.
Produced water can only be reinjected into zones where the water is not suitable for drinking. Typically, the produced water is reinjected right back into the same oil-bearing zone from which it came. When produced water is injected into a different nearby zone, state regulators examine the geology of the zone to ensure it is proper for injection. This same practice is occurring with U.S. EPA’s permission and oversight in all oil and gas regions of the country.” [emphasis added]
More information about produced water disposal can be found here.
As for earthquakes (or what is known as “induced seismicity”), the risk of hydraulic fracturing being a cause is extremely low. The reason was spelled out by Stanford geophysicist Mark Zoback in testimony before the U.S. Senate:
“These microseismic events [from hydraulically fracturing a well] affect a very small volume of rock and release, on average, about the same amount of energy as a gallon of milk falling off a kitchen counter.”
As for injection wells, it has been known for decades that in some cases – in other areas of the country — injection wells have caused minor seismic events. The good news for Californians is that we have more experience with “folded and faulted” geology than any other area of the country, and our industry and regulators understand this geology well. That is why regulators confirm that there has never been felt seismic event linked to either hydraulic fracturing or produced water injection in California.
CLAIM: “People living in close proximity to fracking operations have also experienced a variety of illnesses including headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and rashes.”
FACT: Scientific studies have has repeatedly contradicted claims of adverse public health impacts from hydraulic fracturing. A few more examples can be found linked here.
Typical of its unscientific approach, EC provides no citations or evidence that hydraulic fracturing – which, after all, takes place miles underground – somehow “causes” the common maladies that are mentioned.
It should also be noted that almost all fracking in our state happens in western Kern County far from population centers (and far from any potable water).
CLAIM: “Ban fracking. And use more solar, wind, geothermal energy or anything else instead.”
FACT: We are all for solar, wind, geothermal and other forms of renewable energy. However, California is the third largest consumer of gas and diesel on the planet, after China and the U.S. as a whole. In addition, not only do Californians consume all the oil that is produced here, but we also import more than half of our oil from (often unfriendly) regimes with more lax environmental safeguards than we enjoy. The most environmentally responsible solution, then, would be to produce more oil here, even as we increase our use of renewables so that the oil we do consume is developed under strict environmental protections. That way, we will enjoy the jobs, economic development and energy independence that at-home production provides.
EC bills itself as follows:
“Environment California is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization. We believe there’s something special about California — something worth protecting and preserving for future generations.”
We couldn’t agree more that California is one of the most special places on the planet. From San Francisco Bay to Yosemite National Park, from the Mojave Desert to Mount Shasta, our state is blessed with natural treasures that are the envy of the world and that deserve preservation.
California has a long history of leading the nation in conservation and environmental protection. We are also fortunate that our abundant natural resources are coupled with unsurpassed human ingenuity, which has allowed California to build the world’s eighth largest economy – ahead of Russia and Italy. In fact, California is the nation’s third largest energy producing state and the industry is responsible for nearly half a million direct and indirect jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity all while maintaining our state’s sterling record of environmental protection.
EC does responsible environmentalism a great disservice by simply making up unsourced and anti-scientific claims in an attempt to scare the public. This video, and similar stunts, are unworthy of a serious debate about California’s commitment to the environment and our energy future.