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Thirsty Industry Wants to Frack Parched State

With severe drought conditions predicted for winter, California's Gov. Brown is demanding that state agencies immediately scale back water consumption, while urging Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent. Yet, contrary to enforcing water conservation, Brown recently gave the ‘green light’ to fracking California’s Monterey Shale—a process that consumes vast quantities of water.

Oil tycoons see bags of money lying within the Monterey Shale, a geologic formation storing two-thirds of the nation’s shale oil reserves. As federal fracking regulations and environmental reviews stagger and fall in Congress, the oil industry is seizing the unregulated opportunity and breaking ground.

Hydraulic fracturing for oil can require nearly 2 million of gallons of water per well. As seen in North Dakota, a state under siege by the fracking industry, water allocation rights are becoming a common theme of contention. Fresh water is taken from surface water or ground water, then mixed with 600+ chemicals, the majority of which are undisclosed under the Trade Secrets Act. The water and chemicals are injected into the shale formations under high pressure. Only 30–70 percent of the injected water ever returns to the surface. The wastewater that does return to the surface is separated from the oil and either treated in wastewater facilities or injected into disposal wells underground—permanently removing the water from the hydrologic cycle. Wastewater facilities are struggling to treat the wastewater because of the radionucleotides, heavy metals, and other undisclosed chemicals, and are beginning to reject requests to treat the water with the fear of facing fines from improper treatment.

Though Gov. Brown admits this is “perhaps the worst drought California has ever seen,” he still gave the green light to fracking. He recently signed into law Senate Bill No. 4, a controversial bill among environmental groups and the oil industry. SB 4 will begin to require some level of regulation that requires permit applications, but still doesn’t require the environmental analysis that should be done to fully evaluate the posed risks. Fracking is connected to water contamination, oil spills, and air pollution, and may soon become a key player in amplifying the hardships associated with the California’s drought.

Water wars have already begun in the courtroom—with stakeholders battling out allocation rights and increased water demands. California’s Central Valley Project—one of the world’s largest water storage and transport systems—irrigates more than 3 million acres of farmland and provides drinking water to nearly 2 million consumers. However, the Central Valley Project struggles to meet the contracted deliveries, and already has projected water contracts for decades to come—further emphasizing California’s label as a state of “high/extremely high” water stress. So how would the oil industry meet the water demands for fracking California’s Monterey Shale? Your guess is as good as ours.

If you'd like to learn more about water resources associated with fracking the Monterey Shale, see: Water Resources Needed to Hydraulically Fracture California’s Monterey Shale for Oil [Using the Bakken Shale Oil Exploration in North Dakota as a Case Study]

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.