It's toxic. It's contributing to climate change. And it's happening all over California — with little regulation
Craig described the frustrating process of trying to get agencies to intervene in a fracking operation nearby his ranch, right along the Salinas River. "At this point, we don't know what's in the fracking fluids. How can you know if it's a problem if you don't know the content of the chemistry? It's not fair to the public to hide behind that trade secret veil and expect us to live with it."
The risk of groundwater contamination tops Scow's list of nightmarish scenarios. Fracking fluids can contain benzene and other carcinogens, as well as compounds linked with kidney or nervous system problems. "Once fracking fluid is injected underground, much of it stays underground indefinitely," a Food and Water Watch issue briefing notes. "There is a network of different pathways through which contaminants ... could flow into and contaminate groundwater."
And since groundwater is drinking water in some places, Scow says this possibility is a major concern. "Prevention is really the key here," he says. "We're talking about some nasty stuff that could be irreversible."
TOUGH FIGHT AHEAD
On April 29, the Assembly Resources Committee is scheduled to take up two nearly identical pieces of legislation that would impose indefinite moratoriums on fracking. The practice has already been subject to moratoriums in New York and New Jersey, and was permanently banned in Vermont and nationwide in France and Bulgaria.
But there's likely to be stiff resistance, because for oil companies, fracking may as well be California's modern-day gold mine.
"We've been a major petroleum state for a number of years, and the governor has indicated strongly that we want to continue to do that," Dave Quast, head of an industry association called Energy in Depth, noted at the Climate One panel. "It's been done safely, and it will continue to be done safely, and we should all be excited about that," because it's preferable to importing oil from the Middle East or places with weaker environmental regulations, Quast said.
But there's a larger question: Do we really want to be burning more oil? If every last barrel of oil were extracted from the Monterey shale, says Scow, it could indeed meet the nation's total oil needs — but based on current consumption rates, it would be entirely burned up in less than three years.
"Burning the 15 billion barrels of oil — even if that were some kind of achievement," Scow says with a wry laugh, "is still going to make our climate crisis worse."