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California Fracking: High Risk and a Real Crisis of Confidence
“Make the distinction between fracking for oil and fracking for gas. The oil industry is running around saying, those are the problems you have with gas development in the east, but the regulations that you put into place called 'fracking' shouldn't matter that the technology changes, you don't know that they may be fracking for gas in ten years around here. The expansion of fracking brings with it new challenges.” Senator Bill Monning
This article is based on a few excerpts from the QandA period in the last 111 minutes of the February 12th, 2013 hearing. Many thanks and appreciation are due Senator Fran Pavley for convening the hearing. And comments remain open until February 19th.
The hearing was scheduled for 3 hours and went for 5 hours. Testimony from industry was what we've come to expect. But environmental, health concerns ruled the day. A plea for comprehensive understanding and open transparency by industry and DOOGR were also heftily weighted in comments by Senators, several County Officials, attending regulatory State Agencies, and the Environmental Community representatives in attendance.
The Chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, Senator Michael J. Rubio, did not attend the February 12, 2013 Senate Natural Resources and Water and Senate Environmental Quality Joint Informational Hearing in Sacramento on the “Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing in Oil and Gas Production in California".
He was probably out dismantling CEQA, “Why should CEQA be misused by some to delay or kill projects when it has nothing to do with the environment? There is an entire cottage industry that's out there today filing these lawsuits." Sen M Rubio
"CEQA reforms will expedite the CEQA process providing
certainty in the course of economic development
while protecting the environment
through disclosure of
SENATOR MICHAEL J. RUBIO
The overhaul of oil and gas statutes and local ordinances in the State will go through a CEQA review. California needs CEQA and CEQA needs us. On January 29, 2013 Senator Noreen Evans wrote an editorial piece along with Assemblymember Das Williams on the significance of California's premiere Environmental Law - “CEQA is a fundamental safeguard for California”
The now farcical framework of fracking regulations must come under review of CEQA. Industry arguments at the hearing never convinced anyone, and there seemed to be a noticeable weakness in assurances.
Senator Fuller (R-Bakersfield), at the hearing continues to try to limit the discussion by saying 90% of the technology used in oil production is the same, and “an existing law still applies” … “there are two small new factors, not really new, but perhaps are expecting new examination... and that is pressure and fluids”.
Speaking to the participating representatives of industry and State, Senator Fuller went on to say, “and that does not change your work”. “DOOGR regulates oil drilling. We need to petition the problem to the 2 new factors, and say what significant harm can we discover or have we discovered from those 2 new factors, and how does the new rule making apply”....
“Well casing technology is the same, that's the point I want to make. The two things that the public doesn't understand at this time, and that there are some unknowns about, are the fluids and the pressure. We can't afford to chase fear, we must deal with it. Evidence of documented harm should guide our inspection efforts, and we must use our resources in a cost effective way to get the highest good for the public”.
Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr, stated “after the Los Alamos incidents (sneak frac attack), the level of public concern grew exponentially. There were 4 public hearings on fracking, and the BOS adoption of amplified requirements in the land use code for HF. The revisions regarding fracking have yet to be utilized, the company has since halted fracking operations, and no other companies have come forward to apply. It's rare on any type of land use project that you'll see all parts of the county share the same concerns about it. My BOS heard from everybody: city dwellers, country dwellers, farmers, ranchers, vintners, water districts, all those in addition to community and environmental groups which follow oil news closely.” “Of the three fracked wells in Santa Barbara County, (2 in Los Alamos and 1 in Cuyama Valley) none are posted on Frac Focus.” “Disclosing ingredients is not the same as giving the recipe. Based on Santa Barbara County's experience,” ... require at least a 30 day notice to fracking operation to the surface owner, surrounding property owners and the public.”
“Please don't pre-empt local government from our role in regulating fracking as a county land use issue. We counties want to work in partnership with the State to protect the Public's health and safety on this issue. Working together we can provide the level of analysis, transparency, accountability and safety that residents of our State want and require.”
Steve Bennet, Ventura BOS, member Fox Canyon Water Agency, speaking as an individual, stated that “the Ventura BOS voted to put Ventura County on record officially in support of SB 4 by Senator Fran Pavley and appreciate her leadership in this matter. “Ventura is the oldest producing...Just the fact there is such a variety of production and the aging materials components, means that fracking which puts things under pressure, requires special scrutiny.
In Ventura County, the third largest agricultural region in the State, we rely entirely on local aquifers, deep aquifers, and where we are also looking at filtering underground brackish water for agriculture. we hear 3 things from our constituents...
1) Contamination of water supplies
2) Scarcity of fresh water
3) Lack of disclosure; which is creating a crisis of confidence in government at all levels.”
High Risk and a Real Crisis of Confidence
“Support FULL disclosure, well locations, fluids, water supply source and disposal - get it all out there, transparency has been the best way for us to create the best government policies.”
“Consider some quick action, instead of having voluntary disclosure for the next year plus while we go through the rule making process, why not just require the disclosure of all fracked wells? What is it that we have to hide?”
“Make the distinction between fracking for oil and fracking for gas. The oil industry is running around saying, those are the problems you have with gas development, but the regulations that you put into place called 'fracking' shouldn't matter that the technology changes, you don't know that they may be fracking for gas in ten years around here. The expansion of fracking brings with it new challenges.”
Lorelei Oviatt, Director Kern County Planning and Development, speaking for the BOS, “Kern County, has a trillion dollar ag economy, and a fuel economy that produces 80% of the oil and gas exploration and extraction in the State, and leads the State in wind and solar energy. We are uniquely sited to sort out issues that arise among industry and among regulators.”
“The BOS believes strongly that we want to be partners with you. We support a local solution, not a one size fits all. The kind of thoughtful sorting out of concerns that (the panel) has brought to other issues in California, and we are going to be working on local solutions, and local outreach and ask that work in partnership with us and that you not pre-empt our ability to find a way through this very important issue.”
That was the third panel. In the fourth panel were the industry and environmental experts.
Tupper Hull, WSPA Director Strategic Communications, has a lot of beliefs.
At 55 mins the guy is good, but not that good.
Andrew Grinberg, Oil and Gas Campaign Coordinator for Clean Water Action, started by looking at what 'fracking' means for CA as an overall energy policy, and stated that by burning the 15 billion barrels of oil once it is extracted from the Monterey Shale, the resultant emissions would be 6.5 metric tonnes of CO2, and that is the equivalent of delaying implementation of AB32 for another 80 years. Succinctly put, giving the go ahead to fracking the Monterey Shale, is a vote against AB32 and our Global Warming Solutions Act.
Bill Allayaud, CA Director of Government Affairs, Environmental Working Group cited well casing failure rates in California, displayed official DOGGR fliers from 2011 stating “We Don't Frac In California”, and gave a list of really well thought out detailed suggestions for discussion and elements that should be included in the 'regulations'... things like “all forms of fracking (acid matrix which dissolves the rock) should be regulated” and an extended 'start of operations' and permit noticing time period so that a landowner can have time to test his/her own well for a pre-frac baseline.
In a response to Kern County Planning and Development's Lorelei Oviatt, 'local solution', and inasmuch as 'one size does not fit all', where one county does it differently than another, Senator Bill Monning http://sd17.senate.ca.gov/news
stated “we need to be able to adapt (the rules) to different geology, and types of drilling but, there is an important need for uniformity Statewide... a concern is county permitting. There does need to be a baseline of regulatory authority that is more comprehensive than we have now, and to determine that appropriate split between county oversight and State oversight. We want best practices in all counties bwhere there's drilling activities, and not different political considerqtions or resource issues that might have one county have less scrutiny ina a permitting process than might be required by the State.”
The response from CIPA & WSPA was that the Senator's comments were timely; (90% of wells fracked in California are fracked in Kern County, and 80% of those are in Bell Ridge Field) and that “the petroleum industry and County representatives in Kern County are examining that question and trying to determine a more standardized model of permitting and review of oil and gas operations, the hope is that it becomes the Best Practices for the State since it will apply to 80% of State production... and we hope to move that process along quite rapidly.”
“A revamp of the Oil and Gas Ordinance in Kern County, coupled with an EIR study on those changes, (18 months timeframe, several million dollars, WSPA and CIPA are joint applicants and foot the bill), and will participate with the county who is coordinating with DOGGR.”
When asked by Senator Monning of prospective drilling (fracking) plans for southern Monterey County, Aromas, Santa Cruz County, the answer that came was “I don't have any specific , ah, I can't really give you any specific, numbers, because our members (CIPA WSPA) don't share that information with us, and we don't want it (business plans). Then the industry monologue moved on to “there is a lot of optimism from an economic standpoint around the potential for job creation, and economic growth, and public revenue from Monterey Shale development. But there remains a huge question, and that is “whether or not HF, horizontal drilling, directional drilling, and other technologies, will be as successful at developing that resource as it has in other parts of the country. It's entirely possible there's some exploratory... we're not aware of any evidence of an impending or significant ramp up of production around Monterey Shale activity.”
Industry's response to Andrew Grinberg, of the Clean Water Action, was off mark.
“Concerns aren't that we fail and harm the environment, their concern is that we succeed, and produce the Monterey Shale. I think that's shortsighted because we would do it under the purview of AB32, and vapor control with the Air Pollution Districts … climate change is a global problem. We've gone from producing a million barrels a day in California 20 years ago to half a million a day. What's happened? Are we using less? NO. We're importing oil from places that don't have AB32, don't have vapor recovery, don't have rules on flares, or rules on open venting and that is exacerbating the problem, so I don't think we want to close our eyes to domestic production. There's actually environmental benefits of doing it here in California. And the conversion of coal fired plants across the US, has led to a significant decrease in GHG emissions in the US.”
I believe he is speaking of Texas and other states to the east, where California's imported oil and gas come from. And why then shouldn't we reign in this runaway industry on a national level? The comment from CIPA WSPA elucidates the delinquency of the Obama administration regarding serious concerns and evidence in 34 States or more. Yet the industry response shows that WSPA CIPA missed the overall point. It's not only the AB32 compliant 'successful recovery' or 'production' of the Monterey, but the burning of that fossil fuel (oil).
This CIPA remark reminds me of the commonly heard WSPA statement ”we've been fracking for 60 years without any impacts...” and it goes like this... “the conversion of coal fired plants across the US, has led to a significant decrease in GHG emissions in the US.” ho hum
What Rock Zierman, CEO, California Independent Petroleum Association did, was exaggerate things a bit. Let's see how that's going nationally. It's a relatively new EPA ruling and I picked out 7 states, though I'm sure it's the same in others:
Florida, Minnesota, N Carolina, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Arizona, Utah,
In Florida Progress Energy Florida announced plans to convert the Anclote Power Plant, located in Holiday, Fla., to 100 percent natural gas – a change that will reduce emissions dramatically at the plant. Currently, the plant uses oil and natural gas. The change is required to allow the company to comply with new federal emission standards for coal- and oil-fired generating units, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule.
In Minnesota Minnesota Power announced Wednesday it will convert its coal-fired power plant in Hoyt Lakes to natural gas and shut down one of three coal units at its Taconite Harbor plant on the North Shore as the utility continues a slow move away from carbon-causing coal.
The company said it would spend $15 million in 2015 to convert the 110-megawatt Laskin coal plant in Hoyt Lakes to cleaner-burning natural gas, which produces much less carbon and mercury than coal. The plant would be the first gas-fired generator for the Duluth-based utility.
In NC Three coal-fired units at Sutton are expected to be shut down in 2014 when the natural gas units are scheduled for completion.
In Pennsylvania, A north central Pennsylvania coal-fired power plant that is one of the nation's oldest could be burning natural gas by 2015, part of a wider shift happening across the United States.The project still needs financing and a gas pipeline will need to be built. And FirstEnergy Corp. (NYSE: FE) is studying natural gas pricing trends to determine if the company should convert its 1,710 MW Hatfields Ferry coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania to natural gas, according to Platts.
The low NOx burners at the plant's three units are due to be replaced and the company is considering replacing them with technology that allows co-firing gas with coal, a spokesman was quoted as saying in the article. However, natural gas prices would reportedly need to stay between $2 and $3/Mcf for the conversion to remain economically favorable.
The plant is located near a gas pipeline, the article said. FirstEnergy expects to make a final decision in 2014.
In Louisianna, Louisiana Generating, a wholly owned subsidiary of NRG Energy, Inc., will convert one of the three units at the Big Cajun II Electrical Generating Station from coal to natural gas in compliance with tightened environmental requirements which will be undertaken during regularly scheduled outages and are expected to be completed by 2015 in time to meet EPA's Mercury Air Toxics Standards (MATS) requirements, which go into effect in April of 2015, Louisiana Generating will revamp one unit to run on natural gas instead of coal, eliminating virtually all mercury and particulate matter from the unit's emissions.
In Arizona and Utah, The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) said it will consider selling its share in the Navajo coal-fired power plant in Arizona by 2015, four years ahead of the scheduled lease end date of 2019. LADWP said in its 2012 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that it will replace the lost generation with energy efficiency projects, renewable energy and natural gas.
LADWP’s other source of coal, the Intermountain Power Project (IPP) in Utah, is in talks to undergo a conversion to natural gas no later than July 1, 2025, two years before the legal deadline.
Oh yes, already there are reduced emissions just thinking about it!
The conscious State, public and industry effort needs to shift to 'clean renewables'. Instead they choose to ramp up the entire complex network of industrial mega-structures linked across the landscape by roads and pipelines in support of both the extraction and production of oil and gas, with money on loan, with yearly mega-profits, with no severance tax... enough!
Back to current fracking in California;
Venocco fracked 3 wells horizontally, we can't see the data because they are confidential wells, though they didn't continue with 6 others. Some folks think this is because the wells weren't productive. I believe Venocco is holding their cards close, until some form of regulations are in place.
Written Public Comments will be accepted and may be emailed through February 19th, 2013 to katherine.moore [at] sen.ca.gov
laura.feinstein [at] sen.ca.gov
Again, I feel we owe a great deal of support to our Senators and especially Senator Fran Pavley, who chaired the hearing and essentially got the whole process in gear for the State and who also credited Katherine Moore with a doing huge amount of the effort. They want our comments, that's the best support we could give!