Earth to California

From our paper this morning:

California regulators have launched an investigation into offshore hydraulic fracturing after revelations that the practice had quietly occurred off the coast for the past two decades.

The California Coastal Commission promised to look into the extent of so-called fracking in federal and state waters and any potential risks.

Hydraulic fracturing has been a standard tool for reinvigorating oil and gas wells for over 60 years.  While it gets headlines as something new, it decidedly is not.  What is new is its use in combination with horizontal drilling as a part of the initial well design, rather than as as a rework tool for an aging field.

What California regulators are really saying is that they have known about and been comfortable with this process for decades**, but what has changed is not the technology but public opinion.  A small group of environmentalists have tried to, without much scientific basis, demonize this procedure not because they oppose it per se but because they are opposed to an expansion of hydrocarbon availability, which they variously blame for either CO2 and global warming or more generally the over-industrialization of the world.

So given this new body of public opinion, rather than saying that "sure, fracking has existed for decades and we have always been comfortable with it", the regulators instead act astonished and surprised -- "we are shocked, shocked that fracking is going on in this establishment" -- and run around in circles demonstrating their care and concern.  Next step is their inevitable trip to the capital to tell legislators that they desperately need more money and people to deal with their new responsibility to carefully scrutinize this decades-old process.


**Postscript:  If regulators are not familiar with basic oil-field processes, then one has to wonder what the hell they are going with their time.  It's not like anyone in the oil business had any reason to hide fracking activity -- only a handful of people in the country would have known what it was or cared until about 5 years ago.


  1. tmitsss:

    So isn't the slam against Hydraulic Fracturing that it might contaminate ground water? So now we are worrying about ground water under the Pacific Ocean?

  2. jimbeaux:

    Fracking on land has different implications than fracking offshore. I'm not educated on offshore fracking, but I do know a bit about fracking on land. There is much uncertainty regarding the safety of the procedure. The oil companies insist that there's no environmental danger, but the truth is that there is risk involved. The fracking fluid that they use is a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals - chemicals that would absolutely ruin the underground water supply should the oil companies be wrong in their estimation of risk. This is not a political issue - Republicans aren't pushing for it while Democrats oppose it. It's also not extremists environmentalists that are opposed to it.

    The truth is, in Pennsylvania there's enough energy trapped in the Marcellus Shale that, should it be capable to extract it, would most certainly give the US complete energy independence. That's very appealing to everyone - and especially the oil companies who are buying up otherwise worthless land at prices beyond the ability of most poor land owners to comprehend. However, should there be an accident, a flaw in the design, or some kind of natural problem that causes the pipelines containing the fracking fluid to break, the result will be contaminated ground water. It will take possibly hundreds of years for nature to make the ground water potable again. We don't know exactly what's in the fracking fluid - the oil companies have made the composition proprietary and are not forthcoming with the exact chemical composition. Until we know what chemicals we're dealing with, we can't even make concrete plans for containing the chemicals and treating the water.

    So, people like me are opposed to fracking FOR NOW. Until we know beyond any shadow of a doubt that fracking fluid will never leak into the ground water, it's simply too risky.

    Of course, what's driving all of this is the same old same old: money. There's so much money to be made off of fracking that the oil companies are doing everything they can to make sure that they're allowed to proceed. And that much money quickly greases the palms of anyone willing to offer their support of the process.

    Who am I, and how do I know these things? I'm a graphic designer with a large government agency, and one of my recent tasks was to create an illustration showing how fracking works. The scientist I did the work for - a geologist - took about a half hour to explain the risks and the uncertainty. I'm all for cheap energy and energy independence, but I don't trust the oil companies or politicians to do the right thing.

  3. Chris Kahrhoff:

    Stick to your graphic design and let the professionals handle this.

  4. jimbeaux:

    And which professionals would that be? The oil companies? The politicians? The environmentalist whackos? do tell.

  5. Chris Kahrhoff:

    The rest of the world doesn't need to wait for you to wrap your head around how fracking works.

    There are no absolutes in life (death, taxes, yada yada) America, humanity for that matter cannot wait until something has been proven "beyond any shadow of a doubt" before proceeding.

    We try our best. often it works, sometimes it doesn't.

    The point is you don't even know what you don't know when it comes to this conversation and for the world to stop long enough to explain it to you is in no one's interest.

  6. marque2:

    The evil chemicals are mostly things found in household items. Guar gum in ice cream, bleach water. It seems like the chemical thing is a canard.

    If I told you I cook my carrots in oxidated hydrogen in a glazed silica container infused with sodium and calcium oxides and then tempered and then subjected it to strong photonic radiation - it would sound pretty dastardly as well - even though it is a common household activity and all the above ingredients and techniques mentioned above are in fact safe.

  7. Morven:

    It strikes me that the oil companies should be made to reveal exactly what is being injected; despite the secrecy, I really doubt there is much different between the compounds used by the different companies, and it does risk impacting others. The secrecy only hurts them by leaving them open to speculation by the uninformed, and doesn't let the informed counter these arguments.

  8. Not Sure:

    I think we're worrying that it might be possible for people to keep driving cars affordably into the forseeable future, when all right-thinking people know they should be riding trains. Because, well- you know... trains!

  9. joe_dallas:

    Thre fracturing companies do discuss the fracturing chemicals
    go to any of the websites
    Hallliburton, Baker Hughes ,etc
    The failure to disclose is a common statement repeated often by the greenies, with no basis in fact. Yet the greenies will repeat something frequently with no effort to even google the facts.

  10. joe_dallas:

    There is so much misinformation put out by those trying to stop oil & gas explaration. For those with actual knowledge of the subject, the claims made made by the greenies demonstrate the astonishing amount of ignorance of basic geology and basic science.
    Point number 1 - The hydrocarbons and the naturally occuring saltwater in the formations is vastly more toxic and vastly more environmentaly damageing than the chemicals in the fracturing fluid.
    Point #2 - the probability of the naturally occuring salt water and the hydrocarbons entering the ground water and / or aquifers is vastly greater than the fracturing fluids entering the groundwater or aquifers.
    Point #3 - the reason these events have not hit the news is that it happens on extremely rare occasions.
    Point #4 - The methane that supposedly comes out of the kitchen faucet is almost always from shallow formations that enter the ground water naturally. The incident SW of Ft Worth texas / Range Resources was from a water well drilled in the 80's where the water driller told the home owner that he hit a pocket of methane. The pavillon WY incident was also most likely from naturally occuring methane. The ground water is fairly shallow in the pavillon area. The pavillon area had gone through a pronlonged 2-3 year drought. The water wells in question had most likely been drilled into the pocket of groundwater/methane pocket with the perforations below the water line. As water was drawn out, the methane migrated downward as the water was being displaced resulting in methane enter the water well bore. Methane being lighter than water will sit at the top of the reservior, it will stay there until it can bleed upward or move down as the water is depleted.

  11. joe_dallas:

    A couple of additional points.
    1) The concentration level of the chemicals in the fraturing fluid is relatively minute. The chemicals are expensive - comparable in cost to the hydrocarbons, so those greedy oil companies are not going to waste precious dollars.
    2) The probability of the naturally occuring saltwater leaking into the ground water is vastly greater than the fracturing fluid, The toxicity level of the naturally occuring saltwater is thousands of times more toxic.
    Funny story on the Bush I campaign. Dukasis was accusing bush 1 of being very anti environment because in Texas, the oil and gas operators were pumping polluted water into the ground.
    Bensten apparantly told Dukasis that the polluted water was saltwater from the oil reservior and the oil companies were just putting it back from where it came from. And this was the procedure done worldwide.
    Saltwater disposal has been going on since oil and gas operations began. It was news to dukasis if for no other reason is that there are so few events ever causing damage.

  12. joe_dallas:

    One of the complaints regarding fracturing is the increased risk of earthquakes or that fracturing causes earthquakes.
    The typical fracturing job is strong enough to push tiny grains of sand less than 1/100 of a mm thick approximate 800-1,000 feet from the well bore.
    A highly successful fracturing job creates fissures up to 1/100 of a mm up to 1,500 feet from the well bore.
    There is not a peice of hydraulic equipment on this earth strong enough to create any sesmic activity greater than .1 on the richter scale.

  13. marque2:

    There have been some cases cause mild insignificant earthquakes. I guess the hypothesis is the water somehow lubricates the fault causing rock slippage. However just like every storm being caused by global warming every earthquake swarm is being blamed on fracking - even though in most cases it would be an impossibility.

  14. Morven:

    I'm pretty sure that at one point I checked and they didn't fully disclose the ingredients. However, given that it's such an obvious PR gaffe to not do so, I'm glad they have.

  15. Joe_Da:

    The theory of fracturing lubricating the fault lines with the related mild quakes has some merit - by mild, something in the range of .1 to a .5 scale quake. I can agree that level of quake is possible, not very likely, but somewhat possible (though I wont quibble on that point). Having been approx 10-12 miles from two quakes in the range of 2.2 & 2.4, i can attest to the amount of energy in quakes on even that low level of magnitude are completely impossible to have been caused by fracturing.
    The claim of the 5.4 quake in oklahoma being caused by fracturing is close to scientifically delusional.

    PS - In regard to this comment and the other comments I have made on this subject, I am not saying that fracturing is without risks, There have been a number surface accidents. (which are not exempted from the clean water act, etc.)
    Just that the arguments made against fracturing are done by individuals that have nearly zero understanding of geology, oil and gas operations, etc and the basis of their arguments demonstrates their lack of knowledge.

  16. skhpcola:

    Clearly, all companies should reveal their trade and process secrets in full so that people that cling dearly to the Precautionary Principle can wiggle out from underneath their beds and feel safer. They'll be no better informed, because all of that data will mean nothing to them, but they'll feel better just knowing that the evil cabal behind supplying all of society's wants and needs are transparent.

  17. skhpcola:

    Fracturing isn't only used to rejuvenate older wells, it is used as a matter of course in new wells, to link, via the fractures, various reservoirs of hydrocarbons. I've been on well jobs that pumped millions of pounds (and millions of dollars) of proppants into a single new well...and that was nearly 20 years ago. Fracking isn't a novel concept or practice, it's just the latest straw being grasped at by greentard Luddites that are desperate to remain in the spotlight a while longer.

  18. Matthew Slyfield:

    " then one has to wonder what the hell they are going with their time."

    Playing Facebook games on government time/equipment.

  19. marque2:

    Zynga Oilville. For 30000 gold points you can purchase your own fracker!

  20. marque2:

    Not only will they not be better informed, but they will just move on to the next unfounded complaint about fracking to try to prevent oil from being extracted. The fracking noise will hurt Polar bear ears 1000.s of miles away and prevent whales from mating. Its true I say.

  21. skhpcola:

    As the same ecotards did with submarine sonar drills near Hawai'i. "It'll deafen the whales!!1!!" or some such BS. I'm not surprised that extremists resort to obvious nonsense, but I am surprised that they find an audience among self-professed "intellectuals" who feel secure enough in their pretense of knowledge that they feel justified in wanting to dial back advances in technology and have us live in caves. They really are a filthy, loathsome lot.

  22. johncunningham:

    Imbecilic Party Luddites can instantly switch from one talking point to another one. this may be the only
    example of movement faster than light,.

  23. marque2:

    Just a technicality. All right thinking people think the riff Raff should take grains - but they should be able to continue in cars if they pay indugen es ( get a Prius o donate to Greenpeace) or if the just have the right positive attitude.

  24. gasman:

    If fracking causes quacks, that might be a good thing. The energy available for an earthquake is ever increasing in the form of stresses in the rock. If released later, then in all likelihood more energy would be released.
    So when some minor earthquake occurs in proximity to fracking operations, the proper reply might be to thank the oil company for preventing the future worse earthquake.