Fracking fields in Kern County
  • Fracking fields in Kern County
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Fracking is hydraulic fracturing, or horizontal shooting of water, sand, and chemicals into shale to bring up oil and gas. However, people complain of loud equipment, stealing of water, and widespread pollution through use of chemicals said to be dangerous. The industry disputes these complaints. In any case, San Diego should not be vulnerable to fracking. The Monterey Shale Formation, from which oil and gas are pumped, stretches from Northern California to Los Angeles — sometimes zigzagging into the ocean and inland — bypassing San Diego County.

Monterey Shale Formation zigzags from Northern California to L.A. but misses San Diego

But San Diegan Nicola Peill-Moelter, who has a doctorate in environmental engineering science and is on the steering committee of SanDiego350, says we shouldn’t be so smug. Fracking in other locations, including the ocean, can poison the food we eat. Any water San Diego County receives from the north could cause fracking-related health problems. Fracking now gets the blame for many earthquakes. (Because of fracking, Oklahoma has supplanted California as the big earthquake state.)

San Diegans William and Rosemarie Alley have written a book, High and Dry: Meeting the Challenges of the World’s Growing Dependence on Groundwater

Among many scary things, fracking threatens groundwater, hastens climate change, soaks up precious water during droughts, causes earthquakes, threatens endangered wildlife, spreads toxic chemicals, and spews toxic wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, says Peill-Moelter.

San Diegans William and Rosemarie Alley have written a book, High and Dry: Meeting the Challenges of the World’s Growing Dependence on Groundwater, published by Yale University Press this year. William Alley, also a PhD, is the director of science and technology for the National Ground Water Association. His wife Rosemarie is a science writer.

They are aware of fracking’s environmental degradations but take a nuanced view. For example, fracking-industry executives solemnly swear there are no documented cases of groundwater contamination resulting from fracking. Anti-fracking activists say that fracking sends cancer-causing chemicals into the environment and that groundwater supplies have been broadly contaminated. “The truth lies somewhere in between,” says the book.

“For every one barrel of oil, there are ten barrels of water, and that water is contaminated, sometimes with arsenic,” says Nicola Peill-Moelter.

William Alley says in an interview that the additional oil and gas produced by fracking may one day make the United States energy-independent — a goal that politicians strive for. Also, fracking definitely gets the credit for bringing oil and gas prices down, thereby permitting consumers to spend money on other things, boosting the U.S. economy.

American fracking has had an effect on our international relations. “OPEC [the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] lowered prices to do a knockout punch on fracking,” says William Alley. “Russia doesn’t like it. A number of people believe Russia instituted anti-fracking moves.”

Lower prices aren’t revered in Middle Eastern countries, either.

While our nation is benefitting from lower energy prices, there are big costs, too. Earthquakes are one of them. The blame lies in the disposal of wastewater from fracking. “For every one barrel of oil, there are ten barrels of water, and that water is contaminated, sometimes with arsenic,” says Peill-Moelter. The companies have to get rid of that water. So they dump it in deep underground structures, and this process results in the earthquakes, scientists believe.

“The life span of a well is very limited,” says Peill-Moelter. Companies are “getting most of their production in the first three years.” Three years ago, the U.S. Energy Information Administration slashed the estimated amount of recoverable oil from the Monterey Shale deposits by 96 percent. Overall, the process is expensive.

Then there are philosophical and environmental objections to fracking. Fracking perpetuates reliance on fossil fuels at a time when renewable energy sources (solar, wind, hydro, et cetera) represent the future, says William Alley. He explains, however, that there will be a substantial period in which the world will have to rely on fossil fuels before renewables take over.

Clearly, fracking has definite downsides, particularly environmental ones. Greater-than-expected amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, have been leaking from operations and going into the atmosphere. Some scientists say that fracked wells leak 40 to 60 percent more methane than conventional gas wells. And methane may trap 20 to 25 times more heat in the atmosphere than does carbon dioxide. Result: fracking may hasten climate change.

However, the Alley book points out that over the years, many of the direst scientific forecasts have been debunked, and then those debunkings have in turn been debunked. An example comes from northeastern Pennsylvania, according to the Alleys. In 2011, Duke University researchers concluded that concentrations of methane and other components of well water were higher in homes within 0.6 miles of drilling sites. “Two years later, a separate study found that methane concentration in water wells primarily correlates with topographic features, such as valley bottoms, and not proximity to gas wells,” according to the Alleys’ book. Two years later came a study titled “Methane Concentrations in Water Wells Unrelated to Proximity to Existing Oil and Gas Wells in Northeastern Pennsylvania.” Recently, a team (partly composed of the Duke scientists) stated that homeowner wells near gas drilling sites have higher methane concentrations. Hmmm...

Both the Alleys and Peill-Moelter agree that fracking causes scary environmental and quality-of-life problems. Fracking chemicals are known to be toxic and industry secrecy on the topic has stirred up controversy, say the Alleys. The companies “bring in trucks, water, chemicals, and sand — it creates an enormous amount of traffic,” says Peill-Moelter, noting that the process also creates noise and takes water that should belong to nearby communities.

Peill-Moelter and the Alleys are critical of how politicians — left and right — have handled fracking. “There are things that we can do to deal with the environmental problems and health hazards,” particularly methane, says William Alley. Many are shocked that Scott Pruitt, who was in the pocket of Oklahoma’s fossil-fuel industry as earthquakes escalated, was named head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Peill-Moelter says, “A lot of information came out on how bad fracking was, but [governor Jerry] Brown did nothing to hold companies accountable. He is in the pocket of the oil industry.”

She is disappointed with how little President Obama was able to accomplish, too.

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Comments

Sharris Dec. 6, 2017 @ 10 a.m.

This is December 2017 and what is being reported is pure unbridled nonsense. The “expert” is a liberal suck-up with zero credibility, based upon her assertions which are manifest lies and hyperbolic conclusions designed to promote activists agendas. Ms. Peill-Moelter has decided to ignore real facts and chosen to repeat eco terrorist blather that continue to traffic in slander and deceit. Outfits like Center for Biological Diversity, which is 99% funded by a few guilt ridden trust fund babies like Teresa Heinz, The Tides Group and that sycophant Larry Rockefeller whose agendas have nothing to do with environmental issues. The EPA spent four years giving the petroleum industry the longest running proctology exam in history and found zero instances in 70 years where hydraulic fracturing contaminated any groundwater – ever. The earthquakes in OK were all caused in a few select areas by waste water increased volumes from all types of wells – which have been mitigated now. The industry uses chemicals in frac jobs, like solvents, that are the same stuff you find under your sinks, which is just .05% of the volume (the rest is sand and water) and stating arsenic is a flat lie from her. Your stomach has stronger fruit acids than what is used in a frac job. The size of the hole generated by any frac job, usually two miles below rock strata, is the size of two sand grains – that is it! There are no oil and gas wells in San Diego County. I could go on and destroy almost every predicate she maintains, but my point is this article does nothing to help a reader with objective facts and is simply a political hit piece based upon nothing but fantasy and lies. The readers of this paper deserve truth not lies.

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Psycholizard Dec. 7, 2017 @ 4:02 p.m.

After a bloated paragraph of personal attacks, you claim to have no space for the details of your scholarly refutation. We should remember that even a real jackass knows things we don't know. Unfortunately they just bray and kick, so we don't respect or understand them. To win respect we should share our expertise. Refute the evidence. The pollution we see in the photo seems obvious, explain why this is safe. I'm open minded on fracking.

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Sharris Dec. 7, 2017 @ 4:27 p.m.

The photo shot is of long matured area in Kern Bluff, adjacent to Bakersfield and can been seen from Panorama Drive. There is NO pollution associated with this picture, nothing on the ground and nothing in the air - if there was - the Operators would be locked up, even in an "oil town." Most of the frac jobs occurred several years ago, and were done in the giant Belridge field. You cannot tell the difference between a fraced well and a regular producer once the job is over. This is a good example of biased misinformation from a left leaning liberal that has apparently thrown all of her science out of the window to push her progressive ideology, no matter about the truth at all. Go to Frac Focus.com to learn more about the process and you will see why folks like me that know something about this get so dang upset when so-called "experts" promote politics and not science.

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Don Bauder Dec. 7, 2017 @ 7:48 p.m.

Sharris: Don't blame Peill-Moelter for the photo. I found it and suggested it be used. Best, Don Bauder

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Psycholizard Dec. 8, 2017 @ 1:54 p.m.

The "landscaping" is plainly atrocious, and our our local flora refuses to grow in the sloppy bulldozing. My grandfather was a geologist with Shell Oil, as a young person I saw many "mature" oil fields, and a well pumping on a hillside doesn't offend me. But flattening a hillside does offend, and the green sludge spewing from the wells is unsightly at best. Seems likely that this is regurgitation of the fracking fluids. If the surface runoff is polluted, the purity of the groundwater seems irrelevant. I would love to see the examples of Kern County incarcerating oil company employees for pollution. This might do something to change their reputation as oil company stooges.

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Don Bauder Dec. 7, 2017 @ 7:46 p.m.

Psycholizard: Maybe Sharris is a paid public relations professional for Kern County. Best, Don Bauder

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Psycholizard Dec. 8, 2017 @ 1:58 p.m.

I would have to redefine "professional", before I called him that.

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Don Bauder Dec. 8, 2017 @ 4:01 p.m.

Psycholizard: Good point. Best, Don Bauder

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swell Dec. 6, 2017 @ 12:32 p.m.

But the kids think it's great fun that they can ignite the tap water. Here's one of many video demonstrations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LBjSXWQRV8

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Don Bauder Dec. 6, 2017 @ 12:49 p.m.

Sharris: I disagree 100 percent. Nicola Peill-Moelter is a distinguished scientist with a prestigious PhD in environmental engineering from Caltech. She is a senior director, environmental sustainability of Akami Technologies. William Alley is also a PhD and a decorated scientist in groundwater. Rosemarie Alley is a science writer.

The headline and the copy of this column clearly indicate that San Diego is not in direct danger of tracking, but could suffer secondary effects from tracking elsewhere. This was a balanced piece of journalism and I suggest you cool down and read it again. Best, Don Bauder

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Sharris Dec. 6, 2017 @ 1:52 p.m.

I did read her statements carefully as it appears you failed to read my comment. I know several "distinguished" scientists as to academic achievement that still can't find their arse from a hole in the ground. I complain when I see lies passed off as facts on the ground. I can introduce you to other Cal Tech grads, as well as CO School of Mines that will trash most, if not all her predicates as biased and liberal mush. Read what the battery of scientists that work for the EPA concluded, and they spent four long years to try to find anything negative...and they failed. That seems to not have impressed her one bit, or she is so far biased she can't help but repeat long discredited anti-energy nonsense. Your pick, intellectual dishonesty or pure laziness.

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Don Bauder Dec. 6, 2017 @ 3:43 p.m.

Sharris: From your comments, I suspect that you believe that anyone -- scientists and non-scientists -- who opposes fracking is full of "liberal mush." I suspect you consider anyone who has minor objections to fracking is a radical leftist. I think you might find some Trump supporters who are complaining about what fracking has done to their drinking water and their peace of mind.

I suggest we both listen to the Nutfracker Suite. Best, Don Bauder

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Sharris Dec. 7, 2017 @ 4:34 p.m.

Listen Bauder - I have no animus against your subject, just when she, or anyone else, submits lies instead of facts, hyperbole instead of reality and presumptions instead of conclusions backed by hard science and hard evidence. What you should have gotten from my comments reporter man is simply there is much more than what your subject de jour is stating, and maybe next time you can find an unbiased and truly objective scientist (geologist, geophysicist, petroleum reservoir engineer, etc) if you really care about this subject. She is not even is the right field to discuss this topic in the first place, but then you would have known that if you had done your homework. As to your imbecilic video, natural gas associated with water wells have been known for thousands of years, and there are plenty of them on the East Coast. Just research that topic as well, along with documentaries that debunk your propaganda. Good day sir.

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Don Bauder Dec. 7, 2017 @ 7:50 p.m.

Sharris: Good day? Just when I was enjoying the colloquy. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Dec. 6, 2017 @ 1 p.m.

swell: I think Sharris should watch the video. He will probably dismiss it because of the profanity. But the fellow makes a point: politicians don't do anything about fracking because oil and gas industry lobbyists line their pockets. Best, Don Bauder

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elindgren Dec. 6, 2017 @ 6:19 p.m.

Two clarifications regarding this news item:

First, hydraulic fracturing generally does not cause earthquakes that can be felt at the ground surface. Microearthquakes are generated at depths of several thousand feet below ground level where the actual fracturing process is taking place within the target shale. The larger earthquakes that Oklahoma (OK) has been experiencing are virtually all the result of the injection of wastewater (produced water) down EPA Class 2 injection wells. This injected water increases the fluid pressure along faults present in the crystalline basement rock (in the case of OK), decreases effective stress, and induces earthquakes. This U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) webpage nicely sums up these concepts:

https://earthquake.usgs.gov/research/induced/myths.php

Second, OK has not supplanted California as the big earthquake state. I had the good fortune to attend a lecture recently by Dr. Susan Hough, a USGS seismologist who works in Pasadena. She was in Kansas City (where I live) to address seismic activity in the Midwest, including OK. She explicitly stated that this idea that OK has a more dangerous seismic risk than California is a myth. The bottom line is that although there has been increased earthquake activity in OK due to wastewater injection, California lies on the boundary between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates. This transcurrent plate boundary (the San Andreas and associated faults) has the potential to generate catastrophic earthquakes, such as those California has experienced repeatedly since settlement by Europeans during the mid-18th century. California will always be the big earthquake state (in terms of the release of seismic energy) compared to OK.

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Don Bauder Dec. 6, 2017 @ 7:57 p.m.

elindgren: The article does not say that fracking causes the earthquakes. The column states that the burial of the water from fracking causes the earthquakes. Secondly, we do not refer to Oklahoma as having more earthquake RISK. We say that on a relative basis, it has supplanted California for number of earthquakes. There are a number of sources on that. Best, Don Bauder

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Sharris Dec. 7, 2017 @ 4:37 p.m.

What do you mean "we" Bauder? Are you not a reporter or are you one of her sycophants repeating without checking the facts everything she says. She made many statements that are flat lies and I already pointed out such to you but you persist in apologies for her. Not what I would call professional reporting sir. good day yourself.

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Don Bauder Dec. 7, 2017 @ 7:56 p.m.

Sharris: When I said "we," I was alluding to myself and to my publication, which approved this.

I want to add one more thing. In this instance, I am a columnist. Columnists can state their own opinions. In some instances on this blog, I am a reporter, attempting to give alternate points of view. Most of my items have a slant, however. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Dec. 6, 2017 @ 7:58 p.m.

Peter Peters: It seems to me that Carl DeMaio is complaining about the gas tax every day. Does San Diego need somebody else on the topic? Best, Don Bauder

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