The Obama administration lost a lawsuit filed on behalf of environmental organizations over permits issued for hydraulic fracturing on California’s Monterey shale land.
April 9 update:
The Obama administration has lost a lawsuit filed on behalf of environmental organizations over permits issued for hydraulic fracturing on California’s Monterey shale land, representing a victory for those opposed to oil extraction in an area that sits on the nation’s largest known reserve.
U.S. District Judge Paul Grewal ruled the federal government violated U.S. environmental law when it awarded permits to oil companies for the purpose of hydraulic fracturing without first conducting an environmental impact study.
The result of the ruling for oil companies will be devastating, as it creates a moratorium for drilling on the 2,500 acres of land, halting all plans for immediate oil extraction. Estimates by the U.S. Energy Department put the amount of untapped oil at 15 billion barrels — more than reserves available in North Dakota’s Bakken oil region.
The lawsuit was filed by the Sierra Club against the Bureau of Land Management, responsible for issuing the lease to the oil companies.
See below for Mint Press News prior coverage on this topic:
With the hydraulic fracturing industry growing throughout the nation, the agriculture industry is cautioning about the potential struggle for water and land in states where both are scarce.
California serves as the most recent example. The western part of the state sits above the Monterey Shale, an untapped oil source with the potential to produce 15 billion barrels of crude oil. It’s the largest in the nation, outweighing North Dakota in terms of its potential supply.
Eyeing up the land for development, oil companies have already leased 17,000 acres of land in California through the federal government — and they’re aiming to get more in the 1,700 square-foot region.
National environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, have filed multiple lawsuits with the state’s departments that regulate the industry through permits, claiming little is done to address potential harmful impacts on groundwater before permits are issued.
The Sierra Club also filed a federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management for leasing the Monterey land to oil companies, claiming thorough investigation was not carried out before leases were provided.
Farmers have joined the environmentalist groups in their concerns — both in terms of keeping crops safe and having to compete for the water supply.
Competing with agricultural industry
In California, agriculture has traditionally been king, mounting for more than $10 billion worth of exports in 2010. While one fracking well uses up to 4 million gallons of water, there’s cause for concern as to whether there will be enough to go around. In 2011, California was already home to more than 600 oil wells.
The fracking industry moving in is also a troubling thought for vineyard owners, as the ground above the Monterey Shale is home to the country’s Marceles vineyards. That has the industry opposed to what’s expected as an upcoming oil boom in their backyards.
“This is where that whole conversation of fracking comes up,” Kurt Gollnick of Scheid Vineyards told California Public Radio. “Most of it is locked inside the shale rock. But recently, oil companies have gotten a lot better at getting oil out of shale thanks to hydraulic fracturing.”
The Monterey vineyard isn’t as well known as California’s Napa Valley, and that’s because of its lack of scenery. But according to Gollnick, that’s something the industry is working on. A fracking boom nearby would only hurt those efforts. It could also lead to environmental concerns for vineyards, as contaminated ground and drinking water has emerged as a major problem associated with the fracking boom.
In Colorado, a hotbed for the industry, there have been more than 1,000 documented oil spills within a two-year span. And that’s not uncommon.
“There is absolutely a danger of California being transformed almost overnight as the other areas of the country have been when the fracking boom hits,” Center for Biological Diversity Lawyer Kassie Siegel told the radio station. “In other parts of the country, we’ve seen contaminated water. We’ve seen people who live near oil and gas wells complaining of health effects.”
California’s frack history
California isn’t new to the fracking industry. It already stands as the fourth largest oil producing state in the country. And like every state the industry moves into, there’s widespread opposition.
Four cities, including Berkeley have passed resolutions banning the practice within city limits.
In recent months, four leading environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, Earthworks, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Working Group, filed a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Conservation Division of Oil, claiming it has been issuing drilling permits without properly monitoring or evaluating risks associated with fracking.
California law currently does not have regulations to disclose where the fracking process will take place and what chemicals will be used. As in every other state, the industry is exempt from provisions in the Clean Air and Water Act.
Lawmakers, on the other hand, are being tempted with the promise of jobs and tax revenue — from an oil company’s point of view, regulation on the industry will only slow it down.
In a California senate report, lawmakers made the argument carried by all fracking supporters: The industry creates jobs and generates tax revenue.
In California, 100,000 people were employed in positions relating to the oil industry, according to the state report. On top of that, the proposed Monterey shale drilling sites would add $25 billion worth of tax revenue to the state’s coffers.
While the untapped shale is larger than North Dakota’s reserves, some are hungry for the same money that has North Dakota riding a $1.6 billion surplus. Others, however, do not want to their landscapes to turn into those of North Dakota.