Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Oil and Water Don’t Mix: California Must Ban Fracking

Energy

Millions of years ago, shallow oceans covered big swaths of North America. The bottoms of these ancient seas became cemeteries for sea lilies, squid and diatoms. In this oxygen-poor environment, these creatures turned into drops of oil or bubbles of methane.

Time and pressure turned the silty layers of the seafloor into stony layers of shale, trapping the oily, gassy corpses within. These fossilized graveyards are now the bedrock that underlies much of our nation, including upstate New York, where I live, and the San Joaquin Basin of California. New York’s old ocean floor is named the Marcellus Shale. Here in California, it’s called the Monterey Shale, and it runs from Modesto to Bakersfield.

The question of our time is whether or not to shatter these layers of prehistoric rock, located thousands of feet below the sunlit surface, and exhume the scattered oil and gas they contain. Because shale does not give up its dead easily—drillers can’t just stick a straw down into the Earth and expect geysers to flow—“unconventional” techniques, such as fracking, are required.

Fracking uses water as a sledgehammer to break apart subterranean layers of shale and a slurry of sand and chemicals—many of them toxic—to prop the cracks open and allow the oil or gas to flow.

In a time of climate emergency, the wisdom of blowing up bedrock to keep the fossil fuel party going is questionable. And a growing body of evidence shows that fracking cannot be done, under any known regulatory framework, without risking public health. This conclusion, reached by New York’s Department of Health last December, became the foundation for Gov. Cuomo’s statewide ban on fracking.

Gov. Brown has a choice. He can allow outdated and dangerous energy practices to continue to threaten California’s limited water resources and public health. Or he can stop it.

Here in drought-stricken California, there is an additional consideration. Extracting oil, particularly oil locked in shale, imperils an increasingly scarce natural resource—water.

Last week, the U.S. Geological Survey delivered two pieces of news about the Monterey Shale. It contains far less oil and gas than previously thought. And its extraction largely depends on “unconventional” methods.

This is actionable intelligence and, for a governor who has already declared the drought a state of emergency, should be sufficient to ban fracking in California once and for all.

Oil drilling threatens the dwindling supplies of freshwater that California still possesses. This happens in one of three ways. First, much of the water used for fracking becomes permanently entombed in deep geological strata. It exits the water cycle and will never again fall as rain or fill a reservoir. It’s just gone.

Second, the chemicals used in fracking can migrate through unseen cracks and fissures and contaminate groundwater. We know for a fact that this has happened in other states. As the California Council on Science and Technology warned last summer, California is at particular risk for fracking-induced groundwater contamination because much of the oil-containing shale is located in shallow layers located close to aquifers.

As snowpacks disappear and rivers run dry, groundwater is increasingly eyed as California’s salvation. Is this really the moment to double down on oil drilling?

Third, the water that does return to the surface with the oil is, in California, not only toxic but especially briny. No technology exists to turn this wastewater into fresh drinkable water. Last summer, news broke that the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources was negligent in its oversight of oil companies that were pumping fracking wastewater directly into protected aquifers. This wastewater contained high levels of carcinogenic benzene. Those aquifers are now ruined. It’s clear that oil and gas companies will continue to ignore water quality laws so long as they are allowed to drill. If they expand extraction deeper into the Monterey Shale, water will be the victim.

Meanwhile, students in the Central Valley’s Tulare County are told not to use drinking fountains because the water is unsafe. And people in East Porterville have already seen their wells go completely dry. As in, when they turn the spigot, nothing comes out.

Gov. Brown has a choice. He can allow outdated and dangerous energy practices to continue to threaten California’s limited water resources and public health. Or he can stop it. The world is watching.

Sandra Steingraber, PhD, is a biologist and co-author of a report released today on the risks and harms of fracking.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

John Oliver Rips Fracking Industry for its Deadly Bakken Boom, Killing One Person Every Six Weeks

2 More Fracking-Related Earthquakes Hit Oklahoma Despite New Rules Meant to Prevent Them

Mark Ruffalo Urges Pennsylvania Governor to Enact Immediate Fracking Moratorium

Fracking Boom Goes Bust as Companies File for Bankruptcy

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Residents plant mangroves on the coast of West Aceh District in Indonesia on Feb. 21, 2020. Mangroves play a crucial role in stabilizing the coastline, providing protection from storms, waves and tidal erosion. Dekyon Eon / Opn Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mangroves play a vital role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere. Mangrove forests are tremendous assets in the fight to stem the climate crisis. They store more carbon than a rainforest of the same size.

Read More Show Less
UN World Oceans Day is usually an invite-only affair at the UN headquarters in New York, but this year anyone can join in by following the live stream on the UNWOD website from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. https://unworldoceansday.org/

Monday is World Oceans Day, but how can you celebrate our blue planet while social distancing?

Read More Show Less
Cryptococcus yeasts (pictured), including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. KATERYNA KON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas

From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.

Read More Show Less
National Trails Day 2020 is now titled In Solidarity, AHS Suspends Promotion of National Trails Day 2020. The American Hiking Society is seeking to amplify Black voices in the outdoor community and advocate for equal access to the outdoors. Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

This Saturday, June 6, marks National Trails Day, an annual celebration of the remarkable recreational, scenic and hiking trails that crisscross parks nationwide. The event, which started in 1993, honors the National Trail System and calls for volunteers to help with trail maintenance in parks across the country.

Read More Show Less
Indigenous people from the Parque das Tribos community mourn the death of Chief Messias of the Kokama tribe from Covid-19, in Manaus, Brazil, on May 14, 2020. MICHAEL DANTAS / AFP / Getty Images

By John Letzing

This past Wednesday, when some previously hard-hit countries were able to register daily COVID-19 infections in the single digits, the Navajo Nation – a 71,000 square-kilometer (27,000-square-mile) expanse of the western US – reported 54 new cases of what's referred to locally as "Dikos Ntsaaígíí-19."

Read More Show Less
World Environment Day was put into motion almost fifty years ago by the United Nations as a response to a multitude of environmental threats. RicardoImagen / Getty Images

It's a different kind of World Environment Day this year. In prior years, it might have been enough to plant a tree, spend some extra time in the garden, or teach kids the importance of recycling. This year we have heavier tasks at hand. It's been months since we've been able to spend sufficient time outside, and as we lustfully watch the beauty of a new spring through our kitchen's glass windows, we have to decide how we'll interact with the natural world on our release, and how we can prevent, or be equipped to handle, future threats against our wellbeing.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Experts are worried that COVID-19, a primarily respiratory and airway disease, could have permanent effects on lungs, inhibiting the ability for divers to continue diving. Tiffany Duong / Ocean Rebels

Scuba divers around the world are holding their metaphorical breath to see if a coronavirus infection affects the ability to dive.

Read More Show Less