California: Putting communities first
September 9, 2013
Fifteen billion barrels of oil sit beneath central California’s Monterey Shale, which until recently was economically unfeasible to obtain. Exploitation of the Monterey would make the Golden State the nation’s largest oil producer.
Yet there is more to consider than simple revenue.
In order to extract the oil, well stimulation techniques, known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and acidizing, would be used. But while fracking is already occurring in the state, very little is known about the health consequences of the practice. And acidizing, which would be the main process used in the Monterey Shale because of its unique geology, is even less understood – there are no studies on its environmental or health impacts.
Claims surrounding increased revenue, job growth, and a decreased dependency on foreign energy do not outweigh the need for adequate oversight and a better understanding on communities and the environment.
The negative impacts of inadequate oversight of oil and gas development, including fracking, are increasingly evident wherever it occurs – perhaps most prominently in Pennsylvania and Texas -- including:
- Water shortages for farming,
- Polluted water,
- Polluted air,
- Earthquakes, and
- Community health problems.
The types of pollution, and the health impacts that result, are more difficult to predict and track because states allow industry to hide many of the hazardous chemicals they use as “trade secrets”.
We do know that acidizing uses hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids to break down shale formations. Injected into the ground, the acid dissolves portions of the rock in the formation, opening up existing spaces to allow for the flow of petroleum.
Although the oil industry says the process has been used for decades and is completely safe, it has not been attempted on such a massive scale. Critics think otherwise, asking regulators and the industry to prove that any sort of well stimulation technique is environmentally safe, before allowing it to continue.
The oil producing areas of California already suffer from some of the worst air quality in the nation. And there are no assessments on how air quality would be affected if new drilling techniques were allowed – essentially unchecked and unregulated.
Additionally, there’s no life cycle study on the climate change impacts of extracting Monterey Shale oil, or how it will affect California’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions mandated by law.
As California Organizer with Earthworks, my goal is to increase knowledge of these issues and facilitate information sharing by the various grassroots organizations working to make a difference in their communities. Earthworks will support such groups and put communities first. We will provide them with the best information possible so they are able to make educated decisions. And thanks to my fluency in Spanish, I will help spread the world amongst non-English speakers in the community allowing more minority groups and marginalized populations to get involved. Some materials are already available in Spanish: Facturamiento Hidráulico and Escapatorias Jurídicas para Contaminadores (co-produced with Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment).
California often sets the precedent for other states to follow. It is time we set the example on oil drilling, fracturing, and acidizing. The health and safety of our citizens and the condition of our environment must be placed ahead of corporate profits and state budgets.
Having worked with rural communities in the United States and abroad, I understand the power of grassroots organizing and putting people and communities first. Working with our partner organizations, we will help spread knowledge and understanding through education. With a bit of hard work, California will become a beacon for responsible and sustainable development.