Not one drop of water for California fracking!

Written By: Dan Bacher, February 27, 2014

Not one drop of water for California fracking!

Apparently responding to recent articles written by Adam Scow of Food and Water Watch and others about the insanity of using water for fracking during an unprecedented drought, the oil industry has fired back with its standard response claiming that the oil industry uses insignificant amounts of water for fracking and is going out of its way to conserve and recycle the water it uses. 

Who penned the article? Of course, it was none other than Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), that august body of environmental stewardship that is pushing for expanded fracking operations in Monterey Shale deports in Kern County and coastal areas, as well as promoting the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. 

Reheis-Boyd served as the chair of that other august body of environmental stewardship, the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast. In a huge conflict of interest, the big oil lobbyist oversaw the privately-funded panel to create so-called “marine protected areas” that fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil drilling, pollution, corporate aquaculture, military testing and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering. 

In her latest piece on the WSPA website, entitled, “Oil Production and the Drought: We Get It,” (http://www.wspa.org/blog/post/moratorium-legislation-does-not-make-sense-california) Reheis-Boyd gushes: 

“Oil companies are doing their part to conserve, recycle and reduce the water they use to produce oil and refine petroleum products. Understanding how they are doing that requires a short course on water and oil. 

Oil production in much of California is a process of bringing millions of barrels of oil from deep underground and separating out the relatively small amount of oil that comes up with it. According to the California Department of Conservation, the 197 million barrels of oil we produced in California in 2012 came out of the ground with 3 billion barrels of water. 

Some of that water was very poor quality and was re-injected back into the ground from whence it came. But much of it was used in the processes necessary to extract oil from California’s mature oil fields like steam injection and water flooding. The vast majority of the water used in those processes comes from treating and recycling produced water – thereby eliminating the need to purchase water that is otherwise available for farms and families. 

In some areas of the state, produced water is clean enough that it can be treated and made available to farmers – making oil production a net water provider rather than a consumer.” 

Then she goes on to repeat the “argument” repeated by the oil industry and its hired flacks – the oil industry doesn’t use “large volumes of water” to frack. 

"One other thing you should know about oil production and the drought: Hydraulic fracturing does not use large volumes of water, at least not in California. All of the hydraulic fracturing that occurred last year used less than 300 acre feet of water, according to the California Department of Conservation. That’s about the same amount of water needed to keep two West Coast golf courses green." 

Reheis-Boyd failed to mention that the reporting of the water used in fracking has been voluntary – so this figure has no correlation with the actual amount of water used in fracking! Does anybody really think that the oil drilling operations will reveal the quantity of water they're using when the reporting is voluntary? 

"The Department of Conservation also found that California uses 'much less water' and fluid than other states where hydraulic fracturing is currently underway. Strict standards ensure that proper well casings are in place to protect surface and fresh water. 

We continue to hear that hydraulic fracturing should be banned during the drought because it uses “millions of gallons of water per frack job,” a statement that is demonstrably not true." 

She then quotes Jay Lund, one of the authors of Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) reports justifying the construction of the peripheral tunnels, as agreeing with the oil industry contention that the amount of water used for fracking is negligible. Lund states, "My impression is that the quantity of water used is really very small." 

Of course, Reheis-Boyd didn’t mention that the Center for Watershed Sciences that Lund represents and the PPIC reports receive money from the foundation set up by Stephen D. Bechtel Jr., the chairman emeritus of the Bechtel corporation: 

"Jay Lund, Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis agrees: 

My impression is that the quantity of water used is really very small. 

There are reasons to be concerned about fracking's effect on groundwater, but on the quantity side I'm not too worried about it. In terms of the argument that the state should block fracking to save water. You want to spend your effort on the places where you're going to save the most water at the least cost. 

You should go after problems that really matter and not go after the de minimis things where it's rhetorically convenient. 

To put water use in perspective, the average hydraulic fracturing job in California uses less than 130,000 gallons – a fifth of the water needed to fill an Olympic size swimming pool.” 

Adam Scow, California Campaign Director of of Food and Water Watch, disagrees that the amount of water used to frack California is “really very small,” as Lund claims. He points out the triple threat fracking poses, including using "vast amounts of water," contaminating aquifers and exacerbating the "climate crisis." 

As Scow pointed out in a recent Sacramento Bee op-ed piece (http://www.sacbee.com/2014/02/16/6159509/viewpoints-fracking-during-the.html): 

“Fracking is a triple threat to California’s water. Not only does it exacerbate the climate crisis, it requires mixing vast amounts of water with harmful chemicals, and it puts our vital aquifers at risk of contamination for generations. Last week, the green investment group Ceres released a report that found that 96 percent of fracking wells in California were drilled in regions under high or extremely high water stress.” 

“In 2008, the oil industry in Kern County injected more than 1.3 billion barrels (54.6 billion gallons or 165,000 acre-feet) of water and steam to produce just 162 million barrels of oil. In previous droughts, when residents and farmers have had to reduce consumption, the oil industry in Kern County has enjoyed a steady supply of water, much of it from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta via the California Aqueduct. 

Even though Kern County won’t be receiving new allocations of water from the State Water Project, Kern County residents can expect that the oil industry will still take a large share of any available water from the Kern River or from the Kern Water Bank. The West Kern Water District, for example, allocates about 40 percent of its water to oil companies.” 

In a press conference in Fresno on February 14, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, the Executive Director of Restore the Delta, noted that in other states where fracking has taken place, the oil industry has used 4 times more the water than it has actually reported. 

“Up to 1 million acre feet per year of water could be used to support expanded fracking when California is in a drought and doesn’t have the water to support the industries it has now,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. 

Nobody knows for sure how much water fracking operations use in California now, since reporting has been voluntary, or how much water expanded operations will use. One thing is for sure – in a time of unprecedented drought, when northern California reservoirs have been already drained to dangerous low levels to ship water to corporate agribusiness, oil companies and Southern California water agencies in 2013, we can’t afford one drop of water to support expanded fracking operations in California! 

The state has promised 5-1/2 times more water rights than the water that actually exists, according to Carolee Krieger, Executive Director of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN). We can’t afford shipping more water from the Delta to support an environmentally destructive practice that pollutes groundwater supplies in Kern County and the San Joaquin Valley, a region already overwhelmed with pollution by selenium and other toxins caused by the irrigation of drainage impaired land on the Valley's west side. 

As State Senator Mark Leno said on February 20 when he and Senator Holly Mitchell announced the introduction of Senate Bill 1132, a bill imposing a moratorium on fracking, “A moratorium on fracking is especially critical as California faces a severe drought with water resources at an all-time low. We are currently allowing fracking operations to expand despite the potential consequences on our water supply, including availability and price of water, the potential for drinking water contamination and the generation of billions of barrels of polluted water.” 

The current drought, when family farms, cities, and imperiled Central Valley salmon, steelhead and Delta fish populations are struggling with record low water water conditions in rivers, lakes and reservoirs, highlights the need to ban fracking in California. 

At the same time, it is imperative that Governor Jerry Brown abandon the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels, a $67 billion project that will devastate Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations and take vast tracts of Delta farmland, some of the most fertile on the planet, out of production in order to irrigate corporate mega-farms irrigating drainage-impaired land on the San Joaquin Valley’s west side. Yet the twin tunnels won’t create one drop of new water. 

Background on fracking 

For those not familiar with the practice, fracking blasts massive amounts of chemical-laced water into the ground to crack rock formations in order to extract oil and natural gas. according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The process routinely employs numerous toxic chemicals, including methanol, benzene and trimethylbenzene. Fracking has been documented in 10 California counties. 

Oil companies have also fracked offshore wells over 200 times in the ocean near California’s coast, from Seal Beach to the Santa Barbara Channel, according to a Freedom of Information Act Request and media investigation by the Associated Press and truthout.org last year. WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd served on the MLPA Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Forces during much of the time that this fracking of our marine waters was taking place. 

The Center cited two studies documenting the harm fracking poses to human health. Birth defects are more common in babies born to mothers living near fracked wells, according to a new study by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health. In California, a recent Center report found that oil companies used 12 dangerous “air toxic” chemicals more than 300 times in the Los Angeles Basin over a period of a few months. 

Besides posing a big threat to human health, the pollution to California groundwater supplies, rivers and the Delta that will result from fracking and acidization will devastate already imperiled populations of Central Valley Chinook salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species. 

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the most powerful corporate lobbying organization in Sacramento, spent over $4.67 million, more than any other interest group, while lobbying state government in 2013, according to data released by the Secretary State's Office and compiled by the Capitol Morning Report. 

Another oil company giant, Chevron Corporation and its subsidiaries, spent $3.95 million, the third most spent by any group on lobbying state government in 2013. Chevron also spent much of its money on lobbying against bills that would ban or regulate fracking in California. 

Since it is the most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, the oil industry is able to wield enormous influence over state and federal regulators and environmental processes. The result of this inordinate money and influence is the effective evisceration of the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 during the MLPA Initiative process and the signing of Senator Fran Pavley's Senate Bill 4. 

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

For more information on oil industry power and money, go to: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/11/08/sacramento-a-capital-awash-in-oil-money/

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