Kern County Educates Bay Area on Hydraulic Fracturing

While localities are increasingly rejecting local hydraulic fracturing “bans,” or even rescinding them once they are apprised of the facts, there are still some counties and cities around the country that are doing the bidding of radical activist groups and passing these measures based on misinformation. Unfortunately, one example is close to home in Marin County, on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Marin County Supervisors last month passed an error-riddled resolution “banning” hydraulic fracturing in the county.

Tellingly, there is no oil and gas activity – and thus no hydraulic fracturing for oil or gas – in Marin County. That’s right: the county “banned” something that wasn’t even there to be banned (Vermont did a similar thing recently, even as it continues to expand local use of natural gas).

This didn’t go over too well in Kern County, where the vast majority of oil and natural gas development actually occurs in California. Needless to say, in Kern County, hydraulic fracturing is well understood – and they’re not interested in a ban (yes, there is a causal relationship there).

To express his displeasure that a wealthy, coastal county with low unemployment would pass a symbolic measure that could have a material impact on working families in the Central Valley (and all Californians), Kern County Supervisor Zack Scrivner wrote a letter to his counterparts in the Bay Area.

In addition to educating them about the history and safety of hydraulic fracturing in California, Scrivner points out something that was likely news to the Marin Supervisors: hydraulic fracturing is necessary to produce the geothermal energy that many in Marin rely on for their power. We presume they already know that the oil produced outside their county fuels the cars and lifestyles of their constituents.

Here is the letter:

September 27, 2013

Marin County Board of Supervisors

3501 Civic Center Drive, Room 329

San Rafael, CA 94903

Dear Marin County Board of Supervisors,

I noted with interest the Marin County Board of Supervisors’ recent vote calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

You may be aware that no hydraulic fracturing for oil actually takes place in Marin County. Indeed, the vast majority of the hydraulic fracturing occurring in California occurs in Kern County, where I live and am privileged to serve on the Board of Supervisors. Based on our experience, living near actual oil and natural gas production activities, I wanted to take this opportunity to provide some valuable information. I make the assumption that you were unaware of the following facts because the language of your resolution shows it was based on talking points culled from anti-energy activists, not the practical experience that decades of development has given us in Kern County.

Contrary to the claims made in your resolution, hydraulic fracturing is a proven and well-understood technology that has been used more than 1.2 million times since the 1940s, including here in California.

The fundamental safety of “fracking” is a matter of extensive public record, and it is well accepted by scientists, responsible environmentalists, the industry, regulators, and policymakers from both parties. Indeed, President Obama, federal officials (including current and past Secretaries of Energy and the Interior), Governor Brown, and state regulators across the country have observed that this is a safe process that is vital for our future, for economic as well as environmental reasons.

The regulation of hydraulic fracturing is under the purview of the states, a system that the federal EPA has praised as effective. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed in 1974 and did not cover hydraulic fracturing because it was not designed to cover hydraulic fracturing. Claiming this process was “exempted” from SDWA begs the question: Can you be “exempt” from something that never covered you in the first place?

In addition to a variety of state and local regulations, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has also explained how shale development is covered under no fewer than eight separate federal laws, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and – with regard to the management and disposal of wastewater – the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Here locally in Kern County, our Planning and Community Development Department is hard at work on an environmental impact report on the local oil industry’s use of fracking.  This EIR has been recognized by a “carve-out” provision from the California State Legislature in SB 4 (Pavley-Leno).  Even the State of California has deferred to Kern County’s oil industry’s expertise in regards to the use of this technique.  Because I have the utmost respect and confidence in the thoroughness and professionalism of the Kern County Planning and Community Development Department’s ability to produce a facts-based EIR, I am willing to keep an open mind on this entire fracking debate before any reactionary government regulation, or moratorium occurs.  As elected leaders that make decisions based on facts that have been discovered through due process and investigation by knowledgeable professionals, it would be my hope that your Board of Supervisors would likewise keep an open mind on such an important issue.

As you most likely know, the combination of hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling, which has been widely used for decades, has spurred a renaissance in domestic energy production that supports more than 1.7 million jobs nationwide. Here in California, where horizontal drilling is rare due to our unique geology, a recent study from the University of Southern California estimated that the development of the Monterey Shale (which lies under a broad swath of the Central Valley) could create as many as three million jobs in the next decade. If even a fraction of these jobs materialize, it would be a godsend for our struggling region, where unemployment has remained in double digits.

My colleagues and I  recognize that Marin County has enjoyed an unemployment rate of only 5.3 percent, but that is no reason to deny others the opportunity for new jobs in this sluggish economy, especially considering how political statements (such as a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing) in one region can impact policy decisions across the entire state.

Because your resolution mentioned it, I should also note that increased home-grown energy using hydraulic fracturing is an environmental success story as well. More California-produced energy means less dependence on foreign oil, much of which comes from regimes with far fewer environmental standards than we enjoy here. In addition, the renaissance in natural gas from shale in other parts of the country has opened new possibilities for the expansion of the use of CNG vehicles, such as the type that are essential to helping improve air quality throughout California. In fact, it is because of the transition from coal to affordable natural gas (the development of which requires hydraulic fracturing) in our nation’s power plants that the U.S. leads the world in greenhouse gas emission reductions, bringing us to levels not seen since the 1990s. This is quite an achievement, especially considering the fact that California’s AB 32 law requires a comparable reduction in emissions.

It’s also worth highlighting that Marin County gets significant base load power from geothermal geysers to its north. Geothermal energy is an important and valuable part of California’s energy mix, although this type of energy production is also associated with hundreds of seismic events every year. I should stress that these earthquakes do no damage, but are actually felt on the surface. This is in contrast to any seismic activity caused by hydraulic fracturing, which Stanford geophysicist (and member of President Obama’s Natural Gas Subcommittee) Mark Zoback has said is “equivalent to the energy of a gallon of milk hitting the floor after falling off a kitchen counter.”

Most importantly, geothermal energy production requires hydraulic fracturing, which you just voted to ban. This, coupled with the fact that the citizens of Marin County rely on oil produced in California to support their way of life (Marin County’s per capita income is more than 2.5 times that of Kern County), should make you think twice about your resolution. I would strongly suggest that you familiarize yourself with the science behind the misinformed claims made by those who wrote your measure, and that you remove your opposition to hydraulic fracturing so that Californians from both our counties can enjoy the economic and environmental benefits that home-grown energy brings.

I hope this has been helpful. After all, if the Kern County Board of Supervisors passed a moratorium on Golden Gate Bridge crossings because activists opposed to motor vehicle usage gave us (false) information that the bridge was structurally unsound, you would want to correct the record in a hurry, right?

Best Regards,


Second District Supervisor

CC: Kern County Board of Supervisors

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