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Monterey Shale Report Exposes Myth of Economic Prosperity From Fracking California

Fracking

Post Carbon Institute and Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy released a groundbreaking report on yesterday using industry data that presents compelling evidence that the promise of a Monterey Shale boom is a myth.

Authored by geoscientist J. David Hughes, the reportDrilling California: A Reality Check on the Monterey Shale, is the first analysis of oil production data taken directly from the Monterey Shale Formation and questions whether previous studies modeled on assumptions from other regions are accurate when paralleled with real data.

“There was great need for a level-headed look at the Monterey Formation after the USC report made it sound like oil gushers were coming back along with hyper-inflated job projections," stated Bill Allayaud, California director of governmental affairs, the Environmental Working Group. "This report should make Gov. Brown re-think his ‘all-in’ position on unconventional oil extraction and re-double his efforts to lead us to meet our AB 32 climate change goals.”

Drilling California specifically challenges the estimates of technically recoverable resources for the Monterey Shale released by the U.S. Energy Information Agency and INTEK in their 2011 report as well as the economic projections based on them put forth by the University of Southern California in their 2013 economic study—upon which all of the optimism of the Monterey shale has been based.

“Energy decisions have implications that last for decades," said Craig Lewis, executive director, Clean Coalition. "As this report clearly lays out, fracking California's Monterey shale poses significant economic and environmental risks that persist for multiple lifetimes. Local renewables offer an unparalleled opportunity for California to achieve a clean, safe and resilient energy future that establishes a robust economic foundation at the same time.”

By examining the play’s fundamental characteristics compared to other tight oil plays, including geological properties, production rates and cumulative production, Drilling California exposes significant flaws in the assumptions made and ultimately the forecasts of these two reports. In fact, the report reveals that only a small fraction of the 13.7 to 15.42 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil estimated by the EIA/INTEK report will likely ever be produced—making it increasingly evident that any promise of a Monterey Shale boom has been overstated and highly exaggerated.

“It is clear from our data analysis that oil production from The Monterey is not likely to be the major economic opportunity that previous studies have indicated," said PSE’s Executive Director Dr. Seth B. Shonkoff.

"Instead,” Shonkoff continued, “the actual oil production data suggest that even with the most advanced well stimulation technologies, such as high volume hydraulic fracturing and acidization that have been successful in other shale plays, oil production in the Monterey Formation, which has been in decline for many years, is unlikely to increase to the levels assumed for these rosy economic projections.”

“California would be well advised to avoid thinking of the Monterey Shale as a means to significantly increase the State’s oil production and as a solution to its economic dilemmas,” said Hughes. “Long term energy sustainability is a pressing challenge for California and the Nation and demands a credible assessment of future energy and economic opportunities as well as a consideration of the environmental costs.”

Drilling California will be particularly valuable for informing public policy decisions surrounding the development of the Monterey Shale. Policymakers and analysts throughout California welcomed the report as the first publically available empirical analysis of oil production data and weighed in on the significance of this report for California’s energy and economic future.

“The Hughes report cuts through the hype of oil industry-funded research to reveal that a California fracking expansion will deliver only minor economic benefits at best," said Staff Attorney Hollin Kretzmann for the Center for Biological Diversity. "This expert analysis also suggests that Big Oil could do permanent damage to our environment and public health by chasing the fantasy of a new oil boom."

"If oil companies drilled the tens of thousands of new wells this report suggests would actually be needed to significantly increase production, California would suffer a massive increase in contaminated drilling muds, toxic wastewater and dangerous air pollution,” Kretzmann concluded.

Tell Gov. Brown and the California Department of Conservation to Ban Fracking in California.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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