Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could make the United States energy dependent within a decade and prop up the state's struggling economy, oil industry experts told a Wednesday luncheon organized by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce gathering. Getting there, however, will take a massive education effort to counter negative press generated by recent Hollywood film makers as well as extreme environmentalists.
"There is a lot of misinformation out there," said William A. Morris, a project manager with Aera Energy LCC of Bakersfield, who noted the movie Gasland and Promise Land have cast a wrong picture about fracking. He said while fracking has taken place in California for 60 years without environmental harm, recent movies have generated a lot of myths but despite EPA insistence that groundwater has not been contaminated by fracking "it didn't stop the rumors. I think it's fear-based because people don't' understand the process."
He said the documentary FrackNation dispelled a lot of the claims made in Gasland "and basically debunked the entire video."
"It's a safe, well-established well stimulation technology ... with no harm to the environment," said Morris told about 100 persons at an Educational forum on the Practice of Hydraulic Fracturing. Renting the Ceres Community Center for the event was the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) which had the option of setting up in Stockton.
Political and business interests in California took notice to the boom brought to states like North Dakota by fracking and have opened the door to the process. SB 4, which was passed by the state Legislature, sets the guidelines for companies to enter fracking, or well stimulation, for natural gas and oil in California. In September, Governor Brown signed California's first fracking bill, SB 4, which will require oil and gas companies to apply for a permit to conduct fracking, publicly disclose the fracking chemicals they use, notify neighbors before drilling, and monitor ground water and air quality, among other requirements.
Fracking, said Morris, can extend the production life of an oil well from a year to 40 years. He took some time to explain how fracturing is accomplished. A fluid of mostly water is pressurized injected into lower strata of the ground - often two miles deep and far below the water table - to cause oil shale to break up to enhance well production. The ground must be porous enough and permeable enough to produce results.
"It's kind of like fracturing glass and takes about two hours to do that," said Morris.
SB 4 could result in greater oil exploration in the Central Valley, but it's unknown what areas would qualify. Most oil wells in the Valley at the southern end in Kern County.
An area in California, known as the Monterey Shale, is of great interest to oil companies but Morris said it would take at least 10 years to develop fracking set up a to get to it. The Monterey formation is a major source-rock for 37 to 38 billion barrels of oil in conventional traps such as sandstones.
Environmentalists are concerned that fracking introduces some chemicals into the ground, and some state that the practice could affect groundwater supplies and cause seismic activity. They are also critical about the quantity of water that is needed for the operation.
"There's been no evidence of any groundwater contamination in California," said Morris.
Jason Marshall, the chief deputy director of the California Department of Conservation, was on hand to echo the industry's claims about fracking being safe. State regulations go farther and prevent oil and fracking fluids from meeting. He also noted that relatively little water is used for fracking, on average of 160,000 gallons per well in California. By contrast, a golf course uses double that amount in one day.
Morris said that the formula injected into the oil shale consists of 90 percent water, 9.5 percent sand and a half-percent of chemicals that include acid, sodium chloride, ethylene glycol, isopropanol and citric acid.
Nate Monroe, a professor from UC Merced, said fracking has the potential to generate spin-off trade that can significantly boost the economy of nearby cities and towns. Fracking has fueled an economic boom in North Dakota. With crude oil output to reach over one million barrels per day this year, North Dakota has become the second largest oil producing state in the nation, second only to Texas, and the fastest growing economy in the U.S. California, as the third largest oil producing state in the nation, could reap tremendous benefits, WSPA president Catherine Reheis-Boyd told the Ceres crowd. She said California needs to develop more oil to fuel the demands of the motoring public.
Approximately 82,824 jobs in the Valley are related to oil and gas extraction and oil refineries.
Ceres Chamber of Commerce president Renee Ledbetter said her group is trying to get more forums and conventions to be used at the Community Center to help it stimulate the local economy and make the center a profitable operation.