By John Lawrence
In a huge victory for the environmental movement, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has banned fracking. I guess President Obama is not the only one that can get things accomplished by executive order. Experts have made analyses that identified contamination threats to water, soil and air, the absence of reliable health studies or proof that drillers can protect the public, as well as diminishing economic prospects. All good reasons for the public to demand a fracking ban.
Fracking is also being delivered a death knell by market forces. Since it costs more to access oil by fracking than it does by conventionsl drilling, if the price per barrel falls below a certain point, fracking becomes uneconomical. Lo and behold, thanks to the Saudis who have been keeping production up, the cost per barrel has fallen to around $60. It has to be higher than $80. for fracking to be profitable. Hooray and Halleluja! Who would have thought that market forces, the Saudis and the environmental movement would all have combined with remarkable synergy to put an end to fracking? The movie Gasland also helped as well as high profile celebrities like Mark Ruffalo.
None other than Yoko Ono and her son Sean Lennon, son of Beatles' legend John Lennon, called for Governor Cuomo to ban fracking. It seems like high powered celebrities may have been listened to in high places where the hoi polloi had little success. Their group Artists against Fracking included such notables as Lady Gaga, Jimmy Fallon, Paul McCartney and Alec Baldwin, all of whom added their voices and names to the group along with some 200 others.
Huffington Post reported:
Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said he'll issue the ban early next year. He said 63 percent of the state's 12 million acres with these possible gas deposits would already be off-limits because of protections for the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, other drinking water sources and certain other areas, while court rulings have recognized towns' authority to individually ban hydrofracking through zoning, further limiting financial prospects.
Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said 4,500 staff hours were spent reviewing health studies about the drilling method of extracting oil and gas from deep underground by pumping huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals at high pressures to break up rock formations. It's being done in many other states, including neighboring Pennsylvania.
Zucker said his counterparts in several other states told him they were not consulted before their high-volume hydraulic fracturing began. He said he wouldn't want his family to live near it, and suggested it could be like secondhand smoke, which studies eventually identified as harmful.
"If the state health commissioner doesn't want his kids living there, I don't want my kids living there and I don't want any New Yorker's kids living there," [Cuomo] said. "I am not going to put health at risk for jobs. I'm not going to make that choice."
Chesapeake Energy, once one of the biggest leaseholders in New York, last year gave up a legal battle to retain thousands of acres in the state. Norse Energy went bankrupt in 2012 after more than 100,000 acres in the state it leased were deemed off-limits to drilling. Towns and municipalities are getting into the act of banning fracking as well. Mora County, a conservative ranching community in New Mexico, is the first U.S. county to ban the practice of fracking, according to reports from the Los Angeles Times. Wells are the only source of water in Mora, which is why last month officials announced a countywide ban on fracking citing water safety concerns.
Will California Follow New York and Ban Fracking?
California is the fourth largest state producer of oil and gas. The Central Valley is also America's breadbasket. Fracking and farming are on a collision course. The battle being fought there gives new meaning to the sentiment that oil and water don't mix. Kern County is ag and oil country in California. More than 80% of the state's oil and gas is produced here. About 600 new wells are fracked each year using millions of gallons of water. This is water farmers say they need in order to produce their crops.
Almond farming is an $11 billion industry. Almonds are dependent on what's in the soil and what's in the water to grow the trees. If the groundwater is contaminated by illegal dumping of fracking contaminants, that's what goes into the almonds that you eat. Both fracking and farming are water intensive. Almonds, for example, use about 10% of the state's water supply each year. The farmers' primary concern is with the underground water suppply being contaminated. This summer the state shut down nine disposal wells in Kern County for illegally dumping almost 3 billion gallons of wastewater.
Fracking requires a huge amount of water which is why California with its water supplies in jeopardy may soon ban fracking. It takes between 100,000 and 1 million gallons of water to frack just one well. While consumers are having limits placed on their water usage, fracking companies can consume as much water as they want. It just doesn't make any sense. California is going through its worst drought in decades. Fracking not only uses up potable water supplies, it contaminates ground water in the areas in which it fracks.
Water is a dwindling precious resource. Why should Big Oil get a free pass to use millions of gallons of water to frack while California residents are being squeezed on their water usage? In 2013 and 2014 approximately 1600 wells were fracked in California, according to the Department of Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the state agency in charge of regulating the oil and gas industry.
Jason Marshall, Chief Deputy Director of DOGGR, said "Water rights in the State of California are not regulated by the state." When asked by Jennifer London, a reporter for Al Jazeera, "Shouldn't the regulatory agency be regulating and have oversight over that?" The response was, "We can't tell somebody that they can't purchase water without some form of statutory construct." So DOGGR spouts the doggerel that they can't regulate because the legislature has not authorized them to do so. Jennifer shot back, "Then you're not regulating!"
In Sacramento the oil lobby has prevailed over the agricultural lobby with the result that frackers are taking water away from farmers. Farmers are letting their fields lie fallow for lack of water and almond trees are dying while oil corporations are fracking away.
The California Water Resources Control Board is another agency charged with protecting California's water supply. John Borkovich is the chief of groundwater monitoring, but he is clueless when Jennifer London asks him "Is Big Oil poisoning millions of gallons of water each day?" Obviously, he, as well as other politicians in California's bureaucracy, have been bought off by the oil lobby. Otherwise, he wouldn't have given such a blase answer to Jennifer's question. What me, John Borkovich, worry?
The Center for Biological Diversity is working to ban fracking in California. Fracking is taking water away from farmers who are going bankrupt since they have to leave their fields unplanted because of lack of water.
The State Water Resources Control Board issued orders to seven oil production companies last July to immediately shut down 11 waste water disposal wells “to avoid potential harm to a limited number of groundwater aquifers in Kern County.” Two of the wells have since been reinstated.
But the Center for Biological Diversity said that its own analysis of records from California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources shows that the nine injection wells that remain closed have been illegally dumping oil industry wastewater into clean-water aquifers in Kern County.
In California's 2013, 2014 legistlative session 11 fracking bills were proposed. Eight called for a moratorium or ban on the practice. One was passed which will go into effect in 2015. Even though it calls for some increased oversight on fracking, it will not limit how much water fracking companies can use.
Parents in California and elsewhere are concerned over the effects of fracking on the health of their children. A new report finds more than 350,000 children attend school near fracking wells. Jennifer London reports that most of the children affected are Hispanic. Most states regulate how far from schools fracking wells have to be located but California does not. No set-back rules put children at risk. In Shafter, CA children are getting sick.
California is supposedly a leader in the environmental movement, but when it comes to fracking, they are way behind other states. Governor Jerry Brown needs to get on the ball and follow the advice of his colleague in New York State, Andrew Cuomo, and ban fracking altogether. Governor Moonbeam needs to get together with Linda Ronstadt, his former main squeeze, and other Hollywood celebrities, and get on the 'ban fracking' bandwagon. In fact they are already saying "What the frack, Governor Brown".