A Fracking Earthquake in California?

With the longest and slowest economic recovery since The Great Depression, unemployment numbers are still high, and the number of people receiving food stamp assistance is at a record high.  Millions of Americans have simply stopped looking for work while record numbers are applying for federal disability every month.  At the same time gas prices continue to rise as we have settled in to the new reality of dollars per gallon.  Nary has a day goes by without  a reference to our needing to “reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

The Obama administration has invested greatly into research geared toward the development of alternative energy sources.  No one can argue with the need to find and develop alternative ways to fuel transportation and the economy.  Unfortunately, to date, we’ve spent a tremendous amount of  tax dollars on a variety of technologies that may be decades away and may not even be cost-effective in the long run. The concept of non-petroleum sources of energy is extremely exciting, and if developed could have a tremendous impact on the economy and the environment.  The search for these sources is admirable and necessary.

Unfortunately in the environmental zeal around the reversing of man-made climate change we’re forgetting that the development of new energy does not happen overnight, and it’s best to maximize and improve technologies to fuel the economy in areas such as clean coal and new sources of oil.  The idea here is to allow free trade and to let the free market function, moving oil to markets and growing the economy.  This freeing and stimulating of the economy will create jobs and will drive research into new and more efficient ways to harness OUR energy.

Induced hydraulic fracturing, popularly known as fracking, is a technique used to release petroleum and natural gas.  It creates fractures from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations.  Fracking has helped fuel an energy boom in Canada and has turned North Dakota into a developing energy powerhouse.  The controversy around fracking stems from the possible potential to the environment centered on air quality issues, potential impact on groundwater quality, and the sheer amount of resources required to engineer the process.

The potential is there for an environmental impact – take for example of the Delaware River aquifers, from which New York City and Philadelphia residents get their drinking water. Once it was one of the cleanest rivers in the United States, but now there is some concern that after a few years of fracking on nearby land, water from the Delaware began turning brown. Additionally, air pollution measured near some fracking sites in Texas has consistently been high.

Recently the Center of Biological Diversity revealed that 54% of California’s active wells are within ten miles of a active fault.  Currently, fracking has not yet been linked to earthquakes in California; however there is speculation that there may be a link to quakes in other states.  According to National Public Radio, a 5.6 scale earthquake in Prague, Oklahoma and a 4.0 scale quake in Youngstown, Ohio, were reported and that fracking may have been linked to several smaller quakes in Arkansas.

On the heels of this information, might fracking pose a danger to earthquake-prone California? The town of Carson City has already passed a measure to ban the practice. Will more legislation follow?

If it were environmentally neutral, the impact of fracking on the California economy could be massive.

The Monterey Shale may hold 15.4 million barrels of oil, two-thirds of the nation’s shale-oil reserves, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

According to a USC study the development of oil-shale deposits through Central California may boost the state’s economy by 14.3 percent:

Such drilling in the Monterey Shale Formation, in addition to increasing per-capita gross domestic product, may add as much as $24.6 billion in state and local tax revenue and as many as 2.8 million jobs by 2020, according  to the report  by the Los Angeles-based university. “Based on the experience of other states, not only would state unemployment fall, but significant migration of properly skilled workers into California would occur,” according to the study. “More job gains can be captured by Californians with appropriate education and training.”

Fracking is a real alternative and a technology that is fueling an energy boom.  For California’s economy that’s been in the doldrums this technology could be the catalyst to fuel a resurgence.  Perhaps more importantly, leveraging such technologies can provide the jobs and revenue to help fund private enterprise research and development into newer, non-petroleum based technologies.  Advancements in technology and industry are driven by free markets and private industry, not government intervention and government funding. In California, fracking operations are currently underway in ten counties: Colusa, Glenn, Kern, Los Angeles, Monterey, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Sutter, Kings, and Ventura as well as many offshore locations.

Are we unknowingly placing risks in front of us?  Could the biggest threat of fracking bring to Californians maybe earthquakes?  Or could it be the biggest potential to fuel a California economic recovery, with jobs and lower fuel prices?

About Irvine Valkyrie

Irvine Valkyrie is Katherine Daigle, the once and future Irvine mayoral candidate, an independent-minded Republican who is aligned with neither of the two dominant Irvine political cliques.