While You Were Sleeping: Carson Edition

Old adages aside, is it actually true that nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m.? Sitting for ten hours in the back of the room at a public hearing of the Carson City Council this week, I’m now officially convinced that it is.

First, a bit of background: Last month, the Carson City Council announced its intention to take up and vote on a resolution calling on California to ban the use of hydraulic fracturing, notwithstanding the fact that it’s a technology that’s been used safely in our state for more than 60 years. Because I was apparently born last week, I expected the hearing and subsequent council vote to based on the facts – and for council members to be engaged on the issue, and in full possession of their faculties of analysis and reason.

Of course, Carson was following in the footsteps of Culver City, which earlier this month passed a purely symbolic resolution of its own at the behest of activists, calling on California to place a moratorium on the completion of oil and gas wells in our state. Unfortunately, the fact that more than one million American jobs owe their existence to energy production from shale and other “tight” reservoirs didn’t mean much to the large crowd of professional activists in Culver City, either.

The Carson fracturing resolution, like Culver City’s before it, was full of myths and distortions pushed by Food & Water Watch of Washington, D.C., and other activist groups with extreme views on energy and environmental policy. But unlike Culver City, there wasn’t a large group of activists to speak against fracturing in Carson. In fact, besides one local resident who showed up and spoke (and who had comments on several other resolutions before the council that evening), I was the only speaker during the public comment period on the fracturing resolution. The only one.

With no one present to speak in support of the resolution, and with someone presenting a wealth of contrary fact, you’d think there might be some discussion, right?  Unfortunately, no. By the time the resolution was taken up, it was 3:55 a.m., the Council having spent ten hours dealing with countless other issues. And, without even a whisper of debate or deliberation, it passed the resolution unanimously not two minutes after I finished speaking.

When you read the resolution closely, you’ll understand why this was such a disheartening outcome for anyone who believes in participatory democracy. The only sources cited in the council staff report supporting the resolution were Food & Water Watch’s website (the URL was misspelled) and ProPublica, an advocacy journalism outfit that’s particularly hostile toward shale.

Even more amazing, the resolution itself was a carbon copy of the one passed by Culver City, with only the city name changed.  Normally that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but the Culver City resolution named specific oil fields that are located in Culver City and a public meeting that was held in Culver City. So, because the Carson City Council rushed the report and resolution with no thought to the actual policy, all of those specific references were included in the resolution the city adopted on a unanimous basis. That’s right – Carson officials passed a resolution that states oil fields located more than 20 miles away from the city’s boundaries are actually within their jurisdiction. The resolution also claims a meeting of citizens and state regulators took place in Carson, when it really happened in Culver City.

The only sources of information that the Carson City Council relied upon before calling for the state to ban a technology that’s been used safety since the 1940s were two websites, and both of them with clear anti-industry sentiments. They didn’t hear from experts. They didn’t hear from their own citizens. And they certainly didn’t have any interest in asking questions of a representative of the industry that was telling them, in no uncertain terms, that their resolution was built on a foundation of misinformation (in contrast, they asked questions of a practitioner of Falun Gong for more than 20 minutes, trying to tease out the differences between their practice and Tai Chi.)

The citizens of Carson, like the rest of California, will benefit hugely from the responsible development of California’s shale resources, and they were shortchanged by their Council the other night. They deserve better than an activist-drafted resolution being passed perfunctorily in the wee hours of the morning when any sensible (ahem) attendee would have gone home.

For the record, here’s the statement I read to the Carson City Council at the meeting, in the hopes of correcting the record and promoting a fact-based debate over California’s energy future:

“Good morning. My name is Dave Quast. I am the California director for Energy In Depth, a research and education 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.

In my three minutes, I want to correct a few persistent untruths spread by professional activists to well-meaning citizens and legislators, and that continuously find their way into discussions of the kind we’re having tonight, most recently in Culver City. Note that these aren’t my opinions – everything that I will discuss in the next few minutes is cited and sourced.

First, the safety of hydraulic fracturing is a matter of extensive record. And despite the claims to the contrary, hydraulic fracturing is not new – it 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.

Senior Obama administration officials, including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and top White House energy and climate adviser Heather Zichal, have recently made public statements attesting to the safety of this technology.

Some groups routinely claim that fracturing has been linked to water contamination.

Again, this is simply not true. In the million-plus times fracturing has been used over more than six decades, there has never been a case of fracturing fluids migrating through thousands of feet of rock into shallow groundwater.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has reaffirmed this fact a number of times, including on May 24, 2011, when she said:

“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, said last August:

“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)

Activists often claim that fracturing exacerbates the risk of earthquakes. Also not true. According to a new study from the National Academy of Sciences:

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

Clearly, this topic is of special concern here in Southern California and I wish I had more time to address it. You can find important source material at

When groups like the Sierra Club claim that fracturing fluid poses a danger to drinking water supplies, it is in a calculated effort to frighten, not inform, the public.  What they don’t tell you is that fracturing fluid is comprised on average of 99.51% water and sand.  After water and sand, other additives perform important safety functions, such as preventing corrosion in the well, so that oil, gas and fracturing fluid remain completely isolated from groundwater.

But regardless of the ingredients, it’s important to remember that any fracturing fluid that remains deep underground is going to stay there, trapped by the same geological forces that have kept the oil and gas in place for millions and millions of years.

The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources is now in the process of holding hearings and collecting testimony about hydraulic fracturing all around California. We believe that it’s important to let the experts do their jobs – gathering the best peer-reviewed science available, and then proceeding based on the facts as they actually exist, rather than on misconceptions and falsehoods that people find while watching HBO or clicking around on the Internet.

Thanks very much for your time.”

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