As debate rages on over the health impacts associated with petroleum companies’ practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the industry is coming up with a new but equally controversial technique to get at oil and natural gas deposits thousands of feet below the surface of the earth.
Californians are bracing for a new form of fracking that uses pressurized gas to break up formations where oil is hidden instead of the usual combination of water, silica sand and chemicals.
It’s called dry-fracking, and it’s expected to make its way to California communities soon if the oil industry has its way.
California is home to the Monterey shale, a geologic formation that stretches from northern California to the Los Angeles area. According to the U.S. Energy Department, the formation holds 15 billion barrels of untapped oil, accounting for more than is held in North Dakota’s Bakken oil region.
While the oil industry has long eyed the formation as a source of big bucks, it has been met with opposition from the agricultural community, vineyard owners included, as each fracking well uses roughly 4 million gallons of water.
This new form of dry-fracking takes that argument off the table, but it also brings along a new set of concerns for those working to maintain the land of the Monterey shale region.
“(What) really scares me, first of all about the safety during production because somebody could light a cigarette and there you go, the whole town blows up,” Patricia Lerman, of the local advocacy group Aromas Cares For Our Environment, told Central Coast News, a Fox affiliate station.
That’s not the only argument against dry-fracking. The Center for Biological Diversity, based in San Francisco, has also come out swinging against the emergence of the technique, claiming it’s too early to know what the impacts could be if used in California.
Dry-fracking is already being practiced by at least two Texas-based companies, according to Central Coast News.
Gasfrac Energy Services Inc., a company based in Calgary, Alberta, has an office in Houston and touts the new form of fracking as one the company operates in a safe and reliable manner. According to the company’s website, Gasfrac patented its own waterless “Liquid Petroleum Gas” gel, which it claims “yields higher reservoir production while eliminating concerns over water use in fracturing.”
“While GASFRAC’s process inherently has different risks from conventional fracture stimulation — our strong safety focus means we’ve improved upon, and even advanced, certain safety features and protocols, allowing for increased safety in oilfield operations,” Gasfrac’s website says.
There’s no indication at this point that Gasfrac is planning on moving into California’s Monterey shale formation, but residents and environmental organizations are moving ahead now to warn that its self-bestowed reputation as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fracking might not be what it’s cracked up to be.
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