Five Activist Claims Debunked by Latest Study on Fracking in California

Californians who value clean air and clean water — as well as a robust economy — got good news this week.  After a process mandated by SB 4, the strictest regulations on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the country, the independent California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) released Volume II and Volume III of its peer-reviewed study on the impacts of well stimulation techniques, including fracking, in our state.

The report confirms what federal and state regulators, scientists, the industry and responsible NGOs have said for years: hydraulic fracturing — a well-completion technique that has been used in California routinely since the 1950s – is safe and involves risks that are manageable. Indeed, the report confirms that there have been no known cases of two of the most commonly expressed concerns about the process – groundwater contamination or induced seismicity (earthquakes) – even after thousands of fracking operations.

CCST’s exhaustive 2,300-page report is a welcome addition to the body of knowledge surrounding oil and gas development in California. The summary report can be found here.

Let’s look at what the CCST report says about five of the most commonly expressed concerns about fracking.

1. Chemicals

“The study found no releases of hazardous hydraulic fracturing chemicals to surface waters in California and no direct impacts to fish or wildlife.” Page 35

2. Groundwater quality

“We found no documented instances of hydraulic fracturing or acid stimulations directly causing groundwater contamination in California.” Page 52

3. Induced Seismicity (Earthquakes)

“Fluid injected in the process of hydraulic fracturing will not likely cause earthquakes of concern. In contrast, disposal of produced water by underground injection could cause felt   or damaging earthquakes. To date, there have been no reported cases of induced seismicity associated with produced water injection in California.” Page 48

4. Air Emissions

“Eliminating emissions from oil and gas production would reduce, but not eliminate the difficult air pollution problems in the San Joaquin Valley. Oil and gas facilities also emit significant air toxics in the San Joaquin Valley. They are responsible for a large fraction (>70%) of total hydrogen sulfide   emissions and small fractions (2-6%) of total benzene, xylene, hexane, and formaldehyde emissions is a major air quality concern in the San Joaquin Valley, and agriculture is the dominant source of dust in the region. The amount of dust generated by oil and gas activities (including hydraulic fracturing) is comparatively very small…

“In the South Coast air district (including all of Orange County, the non-desert regions of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, and Riverside County), upstream oil and gas sources represent small proportions (<1%) of criteria air pollutant and toxic air contaminant emissions due to large quantities of emissions from other sources in a highly urbanized area.” Pages 60-61

5. Water use

“In California, a hydraulic fracturing operation consumes on average 140,000 gallons of water per well, compared to about 4 million gallons per well used in horizontal wells in the Eagle Ford Formation in Texas…

“Operators in California use about 800 acre-feet of water per year for hydraulic fracturing. This does not represent a large amount of freshwater compared to other human water use, so recycling this water has only modest benefits…

“Hydraulic fracturing represents less than 0.2% of all human water uses in regions where stimulation occurs.”  Pages 17-19

The CCST study is the latest in a long line of scientific reports – including Volume I of the current report, which was released in January – that confirms the fundamental safety of hydraulic fracturing. Fortunately, Governor Brown and Democrats and Republicans in the legislature have consistently eschewed ideologically motivated pressure to ban fracking and instead have followed sound science.

That the CCST confirms what other studies have shown is yet more evidence that anti-fracking activists are full of sound and fury, but do not have science on their side.

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