Fracking up close

For Your Consideration

editorial@sierrastarJanuary 28, 2014 

In the early 1900s, wildcatters perforated the landscape in search of black gold – oil. Back then, they could practically stick a straw in the ground and oil or gas would gush out. The days of easy gas and oil recovery are over.

Advanced seismic technology enabled the discovery of more oil in areas like the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania and surrounding states; the Bakken shale in North Dakota and vicinity; the Barnett shale in Texas; and now the Monterey shale in California, which is estimated to contain two thirds of America's oil.

Extracting this oil, which is dirtier than Canadian tar sands oil, requires a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking. A bore hole is dug 2000 feet and beyond, then curves for about another mile to a horizontal path and then extends farther for two miles. Cement lined pipes are put in the hole.

A frack gun is lowered toward the horizontal pipe and fired along its length blasting through the pipe to create fissures in the earth. A tonic of water, sand and toxic chemicals is forced into the fissures to loosen the embedded oil. The sand keeps the fissures open and allows the oil and gas to flow to the surface, along with 30% to 50% of the injected toxic fracking fluids.

Oil and gas companies with deep pockets launched massive PR campaigns through ads, think tanks, media shills and local and federal politicians claiming fracking is safe and clean; and that it will free us from foreign oil and lower energy prices.

On the other side of the equation, there is mounting evidence that this process contaminates our water supply, destroys farmland, wastes huge amounts of already scarce water, causes earthquakes, creates sinkholes, contributes to global warming, renders homes unlivable, and disrupts hormone function leading to cancer, infertility, birth defects and other health issues.

Despite my writings and in-depth research, fracking still remains an abstract event for me. So I decided to go on a fracking field trip in Shafter's Monterey shale just northwest of Bakersfield.

Tom Frantz, an almond farmer whose family has worked these fields for more than 100 years, conducted the tour. Rarely, do we get an opportunity to see fracking firsthand with a guide intimately familiar with the land, its history and politics.

Tom came to notoriety when he filmed Vintage Production, an Occidental Petroleum subsidiary, on the illegal dumping of toxic fracking discharge into an unlined pond adjacent to almond orchards and other crop fields.

Within minutes of Frantz's home, there are many breaks among bucolic landscape of orchards. In those breaks are conventional and fracked wells. We saw blue tractor-trailer-sized containers holding clean water, cluster of pipes sprouting out like a Christmas tree at the well head, elevator style pumps, flare stacks, and a network of pipes leading to gas-oil separation plants.

At one site, we saw the infamous holding pond where illegal toxic wastewater was dumped. The flare stacks were burning off upwards of 500,000 cubic feet of natural gas per day; enough to power 3,000 homes per day.

We then headed to the North Belridge oil fields, which looked more like a wasteland littered with oil pumps. Trucks were darting back-and-forth carrying clean water and waste water. Water is taken from farmers selling it, fire hydrants and the federally subsidized Friant/Kern canal.

In 2008, Kern producers injected 54 billion gallons of water to get 6.8 million gallons of oil. That is eight gallons of water for one gallon of oil.

We visited holding ponds of wastewater with high concentrations of Hydrogen Sulfide, called a "knockout gas." Long and close exposure will render you unconscious and results in death. There it was sitting in an open pond within a few miles of schools and homes and farmland.

Recently in Azle, Texas, just west of Fort Worth, residents experienced 30 earthquakes in the month of November. Frackers say only 2% of the fracking fluid are toxic chemicals but 2% of 54 billion gallons is one billion gallons and it only takes only .005 ppm (parts per million) of Benzene, a known carcinogen and chemical used in fracking, to poison your water.

If you are not convinced we shouldn't frack, I really recommend going on this fracking tour. Contact Gary Lassky at data.nations@gmail.com or (559) 790-3495. Excellent information can be found at sourcewatch.org and foodandwaterwatch.org. Search "fracking."

Don't think that just because we live in the mountains, we are immune to the consequences of fracking.

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