The Fracking Debate Expands to California

The ever-present “fracking” debate has ignited in California, as Governor Jerry Brown expressed acceptance to the use of hydrofracking-impacts-water-quantity_175hydraulic fracturing causing an eruption of controversy. The state is projected to have enough Monterey Shale to offset several years of oil imports. Companies have been extracting oil in California for years, but it wasn’t until now that the state government has begun crafting specific regulation for it.

This process, profitable though it may be, is not exactly an environmentally friendly practice. Hydraulic fracturing is the process of releasing oil or gas from underground formations that are otherwise very difficult to mine. In 2000 shale beds provided only 1% of natural gas in the US; now that has gone up to nearly 25%. The fracturing process has contributed greatly to this production increase, but fracturing comes with a slew of environmental concerns.

The gas is tapped by applying high-pressure fluid (water, sand, ceramic beads, and other chemicals) to create cracks allowing the gas to leak through. A tremendous amount of water is needed as well as approximately 750 chemicals, many categorized as carcinogens. After the fluid is used to crack the formation and extract the gas, it resurfaces and is stored in open pits where it eventually is transported to a holding facility. Communities near fracturing sites are concerned with the quality of groundwater as well as airborne contaminants. Extensive study has not been done to determine if fracturing actually contaminates groundwater, but it cannot be ruled out.

It is especially interesting that California is confronting this issue considering its consistently strict environmental regulation. Governor Brown stated, “’fossil fuel deposits in California are incredible, the potential is extraordinary…we want to keep greenhouse gas emissions down, but we also want to keep the economy going.’” Other states are also having the same debate. The West Virginia Department of Commerce has stated that the natural gas industry will bring $884 million in tax revenue and 30,000 jobs to the state by 2015. Pennsylvania, New York, and Texas all have realized this amazing potential and have been utilizing the technology regardless of the opposition.

But the environmental concerns are completely legitimate, and need to be considered more thoroughly than they are now. However, keeping in mind the huge economic benefits, it seems difficult to halt the practice all together. With the nation still in recovery, it is ill advised to halt production. As much as environmentally conscious politicians want to eliminate fracturing, they cannot ignore the financial benefits.

California’s decisions on fracturing will be a good indicator as to the general position of Democrats on the issue. Regardless of the outcome of that debate, the most effective approach right now to fracturing is creating regulation to protect groundwater, and insure that contaminants are effectively contained. It is undeniable that the US economy could use a boost from successful energy production.