*UPDATE* Culver City’s Fact-Free Fracturing Debate

UPDATE (08/09/2012, 12:07 p.m. PT) An interesting development in Culver City last week: the City’s School Board opted to weigh in on the use of hydraulic fracturing in California and Culver City in particular.  The development, originally reported by the Culver City Observer, will provide a good lesson to returning students this year – namely that it is important to conduct independent research and gain at least partial understanding of what’s being discussed before inserting yourself into a discussion. Especially when that discussion centers around a highly technical, and highly regulated, process whose safety has been confirmed by over 65 years of experience and government officials like EPA Administrator Lisa JacksonInterior Secretary Ken Salazar and regulators in over 16 U.S. states.

Of course, haste makes waste as most folks know – and the actions of Culver City’s school board demonstrate that in spades. The hastily organized resolution urged the state to take action on AB 972, a bill that seeks to place a moratorium on a process that has been employed in over 1.2 million oil and natural gas wells since 1947 without incident.

It’s telling that the Board’s resolution was brought against the advice of its president who urged the body to delay the vote.  It turns out there was good reason for that request as half of the board hadn’t even read the legislation the school board resolution sought to support.  With this as background, it’s easy to understand why the original vote failed.  This failure, as well as presentations by anti-natural gas activists to delay the vote, would have stopped most responsible governments from further action. However, that wasn’t the case in Culver City. Instead, the revisions were made and the board ultimately passed a resolution that urged the State Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources to place a temporary ban on hydraulic fracturing.  Given the school board’s tremendous lack of research, we’re pretty sure they’re not aware the resolution will have the unintended effect of banning geothermal energy development which also utilizes hydraulic fracturing.

So, boil it all down and what do we have?  On the surface it appears a reactionary group of elected officials passed a ban on a technology they know little about based on previous actions by the Culver City Council. Mind you, neither of these government agencies fact checked a single assertion fed to them by national activist groups- known for their exaggeration– before moving to action. So, perhaps the lesson here, if there is one, is that in today’s world sound bites are more important than science, environmental activists deserve more trust than senior level government officials, and our youth shouldn’t “trust but verify” claims, so long as they are made by special interest groups.

Original post, July 11, 2012

During its July 2 meeting, the Culver City Council approved a resolution calling on the State of California to temporarily ban the use of hydraulic fracturing by the state’s oil and natural gas industry. While the resolution was symbolic, during the course of the meeting, several environmental groups made blatantly misleading statements and baseless allegations about hydraulic fracturing to scare the public and pressure city officials into supporting the resolution.

Energy In Depth-California, like the rest the oil and natural gas industry, welcomes a robust, open and honest debate about the state’s energy future. But California’s citizens and elected officials have been denied that debate so far, thanks to a misinformation campaign led by national groups, such as Food & Water Watch of Washington, D.C., that have staked out an extremist position. That campaign was in full effect last week at the Culver City Council, and this issue alert aims to correct the record.

Energy In Depth is a research, education and public outreach campaign of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, an organization that represents the companies that develop 95 percent of the nation’s oil and gas wells. EID was established in 2009 to support and promote a fact-based debate about the promise and potential of responsibly developing America’s onshore energy resources, especially oil and natural gas from shale and other “tight” reservoirs, such as might be found in California in the Monterey Shale.

The state, and the nation, may be denied the economic, environmental, employment and revenue benefits of increased domestic energy production if statements like these are left unchallenged.

Food & Water Watch: “We do not believe that fracking is a practice that can be done safely. It is inherently unsafe.”

That’s not true. The safety of hydraulic fracturing is not a matter of belief – it’s a matter of record. Just ask senior officials in the Obama administration.

According to President Obama’s Interior Secretary Ken Salazar:

  • “From my point of view, it can be done safely and it has been done safely.” (February 15, 2012)

According to President Obama’s top energy and climate adviser Heather Zichal:

  • “We know that natural gas can safely be developed, and to the credit of the industry there are many companies that are leaning into this challenge and promoting best practices for safer and more efficient production. That’s not always widely noticed or appreciated, but it’s a fact.” (May 15, 2012)

Despite the claims to the contrary from the oil and gas industry’s professional critics, hydraulic fracturing is a safe, proven and well understood technology that’s been used more than 1.2 million times in the United States, including California, since the 1940s. The combination of this technology with horizontal drilling, which has been widely used since the 1980s, has spurred a renaissance in domestic energy production that supports more than 1 million jobs nationwide, and is expected to create another 500,000 high-wage jobs by 2015. The renaissance in natural gas shales 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 Southern California.

Hydraulic fracturing takes place after a well is drilled and the rig and derrick have been removed. According to the Ground Water Protection Council – a multistate body whose members include California’s State Water Resources Control Board – the process:

  • “…involves the pumping of a fracturing fluid under high pressure into a shale formation to generate fractures or cracks in the target rock formation. This allows the natural gas to flow out of the shale to the well in economic quantities. Ground water is protected during the shale gas fracturing process by a combination of the casing and cement that is installed when the well is drilled and the thousands of feet of rock between the fracture zone and any fresh or treatable aquifers. For shale gas development, fracture fluids are primarily water based fluids mixed with additives that help the water to carry sand proppant into the fractures. Water and sand make up over 98% of the fracture fluid, with the rest consisting of various chemical additives that improve the effectiveness of the fracture job. Each hydraulic fracture treatment is a highly controlled process designed to the specific conditions of the target formation.”

In the case of California’s Monterey Shale, the target formations reside between 8,000 and 14,000 feet deep, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s roughly 1.5 to 2.5 miles below the ground, and far below any potable sources of ground water.

Food & Water Watch: “Fracking throughout the country is linked to thousands of cases of water contamination.”

That’s not true. Hydraulic fracturing has been used more than a million times over more than six decades, and there’s never been a case of fracturing fluids migrating through thousands of feet of rock into shallow groundwater formations. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson has reaffirmed this fact a number of times:

  • “In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” (April 30, 2012)
  • “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.” (May 24, 2011)

Stanford University geophysics professor Mark Zoback, who advises Energy Secretary Steven Chu on hydraulic fracturing, explains why:

  • “There have been fears that hydraulic fracturing fluid injected at depth could reach up into drinking water aquifers. But, the injection is typically done at depths of around 6,000 to 7,000 feet and drinking water is usually pumped from shallow aquifers, no more than one or two hundred feet below the surface. Fracturing fluids have not contaminated any water supply and with that much distance to an aquifer, it is very unlikely they could.” (August 30, 2011)

Environmental Priorities Network: “Fracking will also exacerbate the risk of earthquakes.”

That’s not true. According to a new study from the National Academy of Sciences:

  • “The process of hydraulic fracturing a well as presently implemented for shale gas recovery does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events.”

That’s because the amount of energy needed to complete the hydraulic fracturing process is tiny compared to what’s recorded during actual seismic events that can be felt. For example, for large hydraulic fracturing treatments in the Barnett Shale of Texas, the total energy is equivalent to 1 gram of explosive charge – about the size of a single blasting cap. The amount of energy in an earthquake that can actually be felt is tens of millions of times larger, equivalent to about 30 tons of explosive.

The oil and gas industry’s opponents have also tried to frighten the public about wastewater disposal wells, which are completely different to wells that are fractured. Wastewater injection wells have operated in California and other states for many decades, and are strictly regulated under state and federal law.

California’s existing regulations protect against the type of events that have captured media attention in Ohio. For example, to obtain a permit for an injection well in California, the applicant must first submit an analysis of all known fault lines and show how the wastewater will be kept away from them. The applications are reviewed by state engineers to make sure the environment will be protected and the injection of fluids won’t cause adverse seismic events. The state program is overseen by the federal EPA, and it’s working, with injection wells having operated routinely throughout California, including the Los Angeles Basin, for decades.

According to the NAS study, the vast majority of seismic events are “too small to be noticed by people” and possess nowhere near enough energy to create property damage. For some additional perspective, the NAS study compared the number of possible cases of induced seismicity from wastewater disposal wells, and found 8 in Arkansas, Colorado and Ohio – but none in California. By comparison, tapping geothermal energy in The Geysers in Northern California’s Sonoma and Lake counties may cause 300 to 400 incidents of induced seismicity every year. Correctly, in the case of geothermal, environmental groups are not calling for the closure of one of California’s most important energy facilities over small seismic disturbances that don’t pose any danger to the public. That’s also been the standard for oil and gas in California for as long as the industry has been operating in the state. There is no rational basis for changing it now.

Food and Water Watch: “[Government agencies are] allowing industry to move forward without tough regulations.”

That’s not true. Producing oil and natural gas from deep shale formations is a tightly regulated activity, and operators must comply with overlapping state and federal laws and regulations. Simply because Food & Water Watch does not understand how the existing regulations work, and the significance of the requirements contained in the regulations, does not mean the industry is not subject to thorough and adequate regulations. According to the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations, oil and gas development in California is overseen by:

  • “…several California state agencies including the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), the Division of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the Regional Water Quality Control Boards of Regions 3 and 5 (RWQCBs), the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and the Integrated Waste Management Board (IWMB)…”

The use of hydraulic fracturing, along with other means of increasing the efficiency of oil and natural gas wells, is authorized under California’s Public Resources Code:

  • “…the injection of air, gas, water, or other fluids into the productive strata, the application of pressure heat or other means for the reduction of viscosity of the hydrocarbons, the supplying of additional motive force, or the creating of enlarged or new channels for the underground movement of hydrocarbons into production wells…”

And, according to California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, whether hydraulic fracturing is used or not:

  • “All oil and gas wells drilled and constructed in California must adhere to strict requirements. These requirements include general laws and regulations regarding the protection of underground and surface water, and specific regulations regarding the integrity of the well casing, the cement used to secure the well casing inside the bore hole, and the cement and equipment used to seal off the well from underground zones bearing fresh water and other hydrocarbon resources.”

California’s regulations add to the federal laws that govern oil and gas development across the nation, which include the:

  • Clean Water Act
  • Clean Air Act
  • Safe Drinking Water Act
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act
  • Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act

Despite these interlocking state and federal requirements, opponents of shale-oil and shale-gas development continue to falsely claim that the industry is unregulated. They have focused on a so-called “exemption” for hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and claim it was created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This is a myth.

The Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1974, and while it covers other aspects of oil and gas development, it has never covered hydraulic fracturing, as President Clinton’s EPA Administrator Carol Browner said in 1995:

  • “EPA does not regulate – and does not believe it is legally required to regulate – the hydraulic fracturing of methane gas production wells…”

Instead, state environmental agencies and oil and gas regulatory bodies have overseen the use of hydraulic fracturing since it was pioneered in the 1940s, and the 2005 energy law reaffirmed their authority. The Ground Water Protection Council says state agencies:

  • “…have broad powers to regulate, permit, and enforce all shale gas development activities – the drilling and fracture of the well, production operations, management and disposal of wastes, and abandonment and plugging of the well.”

Lisa Jackson, the current EPA administrator, has also recognized the effectiveness of the current regime that governs the use of hydraulic fracturing:

  • “You can’t start to talk about a federal role without acknowledging the very strong state role.” (November 21, 2011)

Occupy Los Angeles: “They won’t release the sites or the chemicals that they use.”

This is false. Before a well can be drilled in California, oil and gas producers must submit an extensive permit application and have their plans reviewed by state engineers. Oil and gas companies in California have also started publishing the well locations where hydraulic fracturing is used, and the California Independent Petroleum Association supports legislation that would codify this disclosure:

  • “CIPA supports legislation which would require the disclosure of when and where hydraulic fracturing occurs, a list of chemicals injected, and the volumes of water used, consistent with the same approach taken by other states that have recently enacted reporting based regulations. Furthermore, several California companies have already begun to voluntarily report when and where fracking is occurring in California at”

FracFocus is a disclosure registry administered by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a regulatory agency established by state and the federal government in the 1930s. It’s already the platform for mandatory public disclosures on hydraulic fracturing in other states and federal government is actively considering whether to include FracFocus in future disclosure regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands.

Sierra Club: “You have a combination of dangerous chemicals, injected under high pressure, contaminating our ground water.”

This is a misleading statement calculated to frighten, not inform, the public. According to Pennsylvania

Department of Environmental Protection secretary Michael Krancer:

  • “[F]racking fluid is comprised of on average 99.51% water and sand. The rest are components in common everyday uses such as food additives and cosmetics.” (May 31, 2012)

After water and sand, the most prominent additive by weight and volume in fracturing fluid is “guar,” a thickener that’s also used in ice cream, gluten-free baked goods, and makeup. It keeps the sand suspended in the fluid so it can be carried into fractures in the shale rock, instead of sinking to the bottom of the well. Other additives perform important safety functions, such as preventing corrosion in the well, so that oil, gas and the fracturing fluid itself remain completely isolated from any shallow groundwater sources.

But regardless of the ingredients, it’s important to remember that any fracturing fluid that remains deep underground will stay there, trapped by the same geological forces that kept the oil and gas in place for millions of years. Also directly relevant in California, as noted above, are the well construction regulations of the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources:

  • “All oil and gas wells drilled and constructed in California must adhere to strict requirements. These requirements include general laws and regulations regarding the protection of underground and surface water, and specific regulations regarding the integrity of the well casing, the cement used to secure the well casing inside the bore hole, and the cement and equipment used to seal off the well from underground zones bearing fresh water and other hydrocarbon resources.”

For all these reasons, when the New York Department of Environmental Conservation conducted its own exhaustive review of hydraulic fracturing, the agency concluded:

  • “[T]here is no likelihood of significant adverse impacts from the underground migration of fracturing fluids.”

Food & Water Watch:  “There’s towns like Dimock, Pennsylvania, where water’s been contaminated, after fracking began in the region three years ago. The EPA is only now coming in testing household water.”

That’s not true. The EPA recently completed testing the private water wells of more than 60 homes in Dimock. The agency concluded the water is safe to drink:

  • “This set of sampling did not show levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action.”

The EPA’s findings are especially significant because environmental groups demanded the federal testing after Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection also found the well water in Dimock was safe to drink. Unfortunately, because the tests did not come out the way they hoped, pressure groups like Food & Water Watch have refused to accept the EPA’s finding.

Food & Water Watch: “It’s also caused serious local and regional air pollution across this country.”

This statement, part of a coordinated effort by oil and gas industry opponents to change the subject to air quality after the outcome in Dimock, is directly contradicted by state and federal emissions data.

For example, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing was pioneered in the Barnett Shale, more than a decade of air quality data shows smog levels have fallen as natural gas production rates increased dramatically. Besides smog, which is mostly due to the large numbers of cars and trucks in major metropolitan areas, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality conducted extensive air monitoring for the Barnett Shale region looking for other possible contaminants that might be coming from oil and gas wells. TCEQ concluded:

  • “After several months of operation, state-of-the-art, 24-hour air monitors in the Barnett Shale area are showing no levels of concern for any chemicals. This reinforces our conclusion that there are no immediate health concerns from air quality in the area, and that when they are properly managed and maintained, oil and gas operations do not cause harmful excess air emissions.”

This experience was repeated in Denver, another major metropolitan area with large amount of car- and truck-related emissions. Air quality monitoring in Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin also showed smog levels have fallen amid major increases in natural gas production. Since 2006, gas production has climbed 32 percent, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. But during the same period, Denver-area smog levels fell, according EPA data.

Food and Water Watch’s claims have even less validity in California where oil and gas operations are subjected to some of the strictest regulations for VOC and emissions control anywhere in the country.  In the L.A. Basin, oil production operations are subject to regulation by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which has been requiring “green completions” for new wells before the term was even created.  In the San Joaquin Valley, oil production operations are tightly regulated by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

The oil and gas industry’s professional critics also don’t want the public to know about the major cuts in carbon dioxide emissions which hydraulic fracturing in deep shale formations has made possible. According to the International Energy Agency:

  • “CO2 emissions in the United States in 2011 fell by 92 Mt, or 1.7%, primarily due to ongoing switching from coal to natural gas in power generation and an exceptionally mild winter, which reduced the demand for space heating. US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions.”

This year, emissions continue to fall as more power companies switch from coal to natural gas. According to John Hanger, who led Pennsylvania’s DEP during the term of former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell:

  • “The first quarter 2012 reduction of 7.5% makes it possible that this year emissions will fall back essentially to the 1990 level of 5,039 million tons. That is shockingly good news. … [T]he shale gas revolution, and the low-priced gas that it has made a reality, is the key driver of falling carbon emissions, especially in the last 12 months.”

To put this in a California context, the 1990 emissions level is the goal of the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32.

Food & Water Watch: “Today, the governor of North Carolina vetoed a bill that would allow fracking in North Carolina with regulations. California should strive to reach the same standards as North Carolina.”

That’s only part of the story. Some facts that Food & Water Watch conveniently left out of its testimony provide the complete picture.

North Carolina’s Clean Energy and Economic Security Act actually became law on July 2, the same day as the Culver City Council meeting. That’s because a bipartisan super-majority of state lawmakers overrode Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto.

Food & Water Watch also failed to mention that before the legislation was passed, North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued a report which said:

  • “After reviewing other studies and experiences in oil and gas‐producing states, DENR has concluded that information available to date suggests that production of natural gas by means of hydraulic fracturing can be done safely as long as the right protections are in place.”

Culver City Democratic Club: “There have been 180 resolutions and ordinances passed around the country, and only three lawsuits, and of those three, banning fracking won two of them, and we only lost one.”

This statement leaves out some critical facts. Many, if not most, of the local measures against hydraulic fracturing have been passed in areas with little or no potential for shale-oil and shale-gas development, such as Vermont, New Jersey and areas of New York that are outside of the area where shale development is expected to occur. Those measures have not been challenged because they don’t prevent the responsible development of energy from deep shale formations and the things that go with it – jobs, oil and gas royalties to landowners, and higher tax revenues for state and local governments.

It’s a different story in places where recoverable oil and gas resources actually exist. In Morgantown, West Virginia, the city council’s ban on hydraulic fracturing was overturned after a judge ruled the state government has jurisdiction over oil and natural gas activities. Meanwhile, it’s premature for environmental groups to say they “won” the lawsuits concerning the New York towns of Dryden and Middlefield. Both matters have been appealed – in one case by an oil and gas company, in the other by a dairy farmer.

Watch the Culver City hearing HERE.

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