I was pleased to hear this month that a group of 27 former campaign and administration advisors to California Gov. Jerry Brown released a letter asking him to ban fracking and other forms of well stimulation until more is known about its effects on global warming, air and water pollution. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, also recently called for a federal moratorium on offshore fracking after recent news that fossil fuel companies are dumping their toxic wastewater directly into the ocean off the Santa Barbara coast.
All this opposition to fracking should come as no surprise. Fracking is known to make American drinking water undrinkable, and just two weeks ago scientists released a report showing that greenhouse gases in the United States are much higher than previously thought due to methane emissions caused by fracking.
The fossil fuel industry argues that fracking will bring America energy independence and a stronger economy. However, renewable energy jobs are turning out to be just as prosperous as fossil fuel industry jobs. Plus, renewables receive only a fraction of the subsidies that fossil fuel companies receive.
Stanford University engineer Mark Jacobson and colleagues showed in 2009 that with technology from five years ago, the entire world's energy needs could be met by wind, water and solar energy.
Fracking and its bedfellows (such as acidization and cyclic steaming) have little to do with boosting the economy or achieving energy independence.
In our area, some oil companies claim they are “not fracking.” What that often means is that instead of breaking up the rock with water and chemicals as in the typical fracking process, they are literally melting the rock with acid. Some would argue this is much worse than fracking. This process, called acidization, uses hydrofluoric acid (HF) along with the same kinds of chemicals used in fracking to access unconventional “tight” oil (which would otherwise be unattainable). HF is so dangerous that it is listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a potential agent for chemical terrorism. It can melt the skin right off of your body.
Another form of enhanced extraction is cyclic steam injection, the most greenhouse gas intensive form of oil production due to the energy used to heat the oil up to 500 degrees to get it out of the ground. This process is being investigated by government organizations in Canada after the steam pressure in the Cold Lake oil field caused a massive underground leak that contaminated groundwater and has proven impossible to stop. They've had to drain the lake it has contaminated as an emergency measure, devastating freshwater and food supply for local First Nations people who live in the area.
What Brown’s former advisors recognize is that using these processes to extract unconventional oil poses grave threats to our environment, our water resources, our health and our state’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that all must be factored in before we allow fossil fuel companies to do business-as-usual.
Instead of ramping up unconventional oil production, California should be leading the way in transitioning to clean energy in order to head off the worst impacts of global warming. We are seeing the impacts of climate change now in the form of more intense storms and hurricanes, more fires, more droughts and tropical disease.
Scientists at MIT have demonstrated that climate change is correlated with stronger storms. They ran a storm like Typhoon Haiyan, which recently devastated the Philippines, through a model using the conditions that existed in the 1980s — before the last several decades of warming — and found that it caused 30 to 40 percent less damage. Scientists have also shown us that we could be using technology that doesn't put our health at risk and doesn't contaminate our water.
Let's ban fracking and other forms of well stimulation such as cyclic steaming and acidization. Let's welcome wind, water and solar energy with open arms.