U.S. Approves Fracking on Federal Land in California

Friday, August 29, 2014

The federal government gave the green light for oil and gas companies in California to drill on federal lands using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and acidization techniques after a receiving a report (pdf) from an independent, non-profit group created by the Legislature.

The California Council on Science and Technology enlisted Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Pacific Institute to do the study after U.S. District Judge Paul Grewal ruled last April that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) couldn’t approve 2,500 acres of land for oil and gas development until it studied the effects of well stimulation on the environment.

“The potential risk for contamination from fracking, while unknown, is not so remote or speculative to be completely ignored,” Judge Grewal wrote.

The report essentially says: We studied well stimulation. Now it is known and can be completely ignored.

The report said groundwater is not in danger of contamination when pressurized water, unknown chemicals, acid or other materials are injected deep into the Earth. Earthquakes, air pollution from greenhouse gas emissions, impacts on wildlife and vegetation—not a problem. 

Its assurances, taken by the BLM as sufficient cause to open the land up, did come with one large caveat: It didn’t have much current information:

“Much of the data available to analyze current practice come from voluntary sources plus six weeks of data from well stimulation notices required by SB4.”

The report acknowledges that there have been many instances of problems in other states, but California is different: “Available data suggests that present day well stimulation practices in California differ significantly from practices used for unconventional shale reservoirs in states such as North Dakota and Texas.”

So they “are not necessarily applicable.”

Acidization isn’t used as often in California as other states: “These technologies are not expected to lead to major increases in oil and gas development in the state.”

So, skip that.

Most, but not all, of the chemicals used were of low-toxicity. However, “Approximately one-third of the chemicals had insufficient available information for evaluation. This toxicological assessment is limited. . . . Further review of the constituents of injection fluids used in well stimulation jobs in California is needed.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, whose lawsuit last year triggered the study, was not happy. “A few months of incomplete data simply can’t support a federal decision to resume selling off our public lands in California to oil companies,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the center’s Climate Law Institute. “Using this report as a basis for continued fracking in California is illogical and illegal.”

It may be illogical, but right now it’s legal.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Feds to Resume Leasing for Fracking in California (by Ellen Knickmeyer, Associated Press)

Federal Scientific Review Highlights Grave Risks of California Fracking (Center for Biological Diversity)

Federal Judge Blocks U.S. Drilling Leases that Ignored Dangers of Fracking (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Advanced Well Stimulation Techniques in California (California Council on Science and Technology, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Pacific Institute) (pdf)

Leave a comment