Fracking threatens imperiled Delta fish and Central Valley salmon

Written By: Dan Bacher, January 7, 2014

Fracking threatens imperiled Delta fish and Central Valley salmon

The proposed regulations for fracking and acidizing developed under Senator Fran Pavley's Senate Bill 4 are a dangerous handout to the oil industry, the largest corporate lobby in California, and greatly threaten already imperiled fish populations. 

If adopted by the California Department of Conservation, they will greenlight a massive expansion of fracking for oil in California at a time when Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta fish and Central Valley salmon populations are in severe crisis as California suffers from a record drought. 

What we need now is not regulations for fracking, but a total ban on fracking in the state including California's ocean and bay waters, so that fish populations already hammered by record water exports aren't threatened further. 

A report recently released by the American Lung Association revealed that the oil industry lobby spent $45.4 million in the state between January 1 2009 and June 30, 2013. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) alone has spent over $20 million since 2009 to lobby legislators. (http://blog.center4tobaccopolicy.org/oil-lobbying-in-california

The enormous power of the oil industry in Sacramento is the reason why no bills calling for a moratorium on fracking were allowed to pass through the legislature - and why the oil industry was able to amend an already bad bill, Senate Bill 4, to make it even worse. 

You can be sure that these draft regulations won't protect the land, water, fish, wildlife and people of California from the expansion of fracking when oil industry representatives praise them. 

For example, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create alleged "marine protected areas" in Southern California, said she was "pleased" that the Department of Conservation and the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources have been able to "promptly release" draft hydraulic fracturing regulations. 

In her blog on the WSPA website, she further praised the legislation (http://www.wspa.org/blog/post/climate-scientists-ignore-california’s-energy-realities) 

“This September, California adopted the nation’s strictest regulations for the oil extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing," said Reheis-Boyd. "The landmark bill, SB 4, was authored by one of our state’s preeminent environmental leaders, Senator Fran Pavley, and signed by Jerry Brown, one of the nation’s greenest governors." 

Unlike oil industry representatives who laud what they claim are the "nation's strictest regulations" for fracking, I support a complete ban on fracking on California's ocean waters and land, especially as we face unprecedented drought conditions in the state. 

2013 was California's driest year in recorded history. But rather than conserve the water as they should have, the Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Water Resources virtually emptied Shasta, Oroville and Folsom reservoirs to divert the water to corporate agribusiness, developers and oil companies. 

With abysmally low conditions in Central Valley reservoirs and throughout the state, now is not the time to allow a huge expansion of water-intensive fracking, which threatens to contaminate our groundwater supplies and streams. 

The water will have to come from somewhere – and much of the water to be used for fracking in Kern County and elsewhere will come from the Central Valley and State Water Projects – and through the massive twin tunnels proposed under Governor Brown's Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). 

Ken Broder in allgov.com reported on the recent acknowledgement by Bay Delta Conservation Plan officials that tunnel water could be used for fracking. "Water interests want more water and—in case it wasn’t clear before, the BDCP makes it clear now—that includes oil and gas drillers using hydraulic fracturing," said Broder. (http://www.allgov.com/usa/ca/news/top-stories/frackers-await-the-flow-of-water-from-the-26-billion-delta-project-140102?news=852056

This plan to expand fracking takes place as Delta fish populations and Central Valley salmon are facing unprecedented disaster, due to increased water exports out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in recent years. We can't allow one drop of water to be used to expand fracking when California's fisheries are in severe crisis. 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) this month released the results of the 2013 Fall Midwater Trawl (FMWT), reconfirming the continuing biological collapse that is occurring in the Bay-Delta Estuary, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. 

The results reveal that populations of Delta smelt, striped bass and American shad declined from the disastrous levels of last year while longfin smelt and threadfin shad showed little improvement from last year’s lows, according to Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA). 

The survey documented the second lowest population levels of Delta smelt and American shad on record, as well as the third lowest striped bass index, the eighth lowest longfin smelt index and the fifth lowest threadfin shad indices. 

"The surveys, initiated in 1967, the same year the State Water Project began exporting water from the Delta, show that population indices of Delta smelt, striped bass, longfin smelt, threadfin shad and American shad have declined 95.6%, 99.6%, 99.8%, 97.8%, 90.9%, respectively, between 1967 and 2013," said Jennings. "Inexplicably, the 2013 indices for splittail were not released but results from 2012 reveal that splittail indices have dropped 98.5% from 1967 levels." 

Jennings emphasized that 2013 was also a bad year for salmon. As many as half of this year’s up-migrating winter-run Chinook salmon were stranded in the Yolo Bypass and Colusa Basin in April-June and Sacramento River temperature requirements to protect spawning winter-run were relaxed in June. 

In November, abrupt reductions in Sacramento River flow exposed spawning redds, killed up to 40% of Sacramento River fall-run Chinook salmon eggs and stranded newly emerged fry. "And low reservoir levels will likely lead to inadequate flows for young salmon out-migration this coming spring," said Jennings. 

While the exact amount of water used in fracking in California is not currently known, since disclosure of the amount of water used for fracking is voluntary - one thing is for certain - oil companies use big quantities in their current oil drilling operations in Kern County. Much of this water this comes through the State Water Project's California Aqueduct and the Central Valley Water Project's Delta-Mendota Canal, spurring increasing conflicts between local farmers and oil companies over available water. 

Jeremy Miller, in his 2011 investigative piece, "The Colonization of Kern County," in Orion Magazine, said it is "resoundingly clear, however, that it takes more water than ever just to sustain Kern County's ebbing oil production," (http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/6047/

Miller's investigation has yielded some alarming data on how much water has been used by the oil industry in Kern County and statewide since the 1960s. 

"In the time since steamflooding was pioneered here in the fields of Kern County in the 1960s, oil companies statewide have pumped roughly 2.8 trillion gallons of fresh water—or, in the parlance of agriculture, nearly 9 million acre-feet—underground in pursuit of the region's tarry oil," said Miller. "Essentially, enough water has been injected into the oil fields here over the last forty years to create a lake one foot deep covering more than thirteen thousand square miles—nearly twice the surface area of Lake Ontario." 

As California fisheries suffer from drought and state and federal water mismanagement, the toxic chemicals used in fracking and acidizing will only further pollute groundwater supplies, rivers and ocean waters. In every state where fracking is taking place, it is contaminating water, creating dangerous air pollution, generating huge quantities of toxic wastewater and industrializing communities. However, oil companies have refused to disclose the chemicals used in fracking operations, since they are considered a "trade secret." 

"In at least four states that have nurtured the nation's energy boom, hundreds of complaints have been made about well-water contamination from oil or gas drilling, and pollution was confirmed in a number of them, according to a review that casts doubt on industry suggestions that such problems rarely happen," reported Kevin Begos of the Associated Press on January 6. (http://news.msn.com/us/some-states-confirm-water-pollution-from-drilling

"The Associated Press requested data on drilling-related complaints in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas and found major differences in how the states report such problems," Begos said. "Texas provided the most detail, while the other states provided only general outlines. And while the confirmed problems represent only a tiny portion of the thousands of oil and gas wells drilled each year in the U.S., the lack of detail in some state reports could help fuel public confusion and mistrust." 

The only way to protect California groundwater supplies, rivers and ocean waters and imperiled Delta fish and Central Valley salmon populations from fracking is to ban the environmentally destructive practice entirely. It is essential that Governor Jerry Brown join the majority of the residents of the state and support a ban on fracking. 

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