Let’s fact check the fracktivists
August 2, 2014
OPINION By ANDY CALDWELL
Willie Brown, one of the most powerful politicians in California history, remarked that “A lie unanswered in politics, becomes truth within 24 hours.” My challenge? Which lie to begin with as I rebut the propaganda disseminated by the campaign to ban oil production in Santa Barbara County?
I guess I should start with the ostensible purpose of the measure and that is to ban fracking. First, the public needs to know no fracking is taking place here and this has everything to do with the geology of the oil production zone here on the Central Coast. But, even if an application to frack was to be submitted, the county already put an ordinance in place three years ago regulating the same.
So, this begs the question, who would go through all this effort to ask voters to ban something that is not expected to occur here anyway and why?
The ostensible goal of this ordinance is to ban the benign production technique known as steam injection, a process by which steam is injected into the well to make the oil more fluid. The ballot proponents claim their opposition to steam injection has to do with the inordinate amount of fresh water used to create the steam, due to their altruistic concerns for this scarce resource.
But, the fact of the matter is few in the oil industry use any fresh water to make the steam. Fresh water, used by farmers and urbanites, is located in a relatively shallow zone just a few hundred feet below ground surface. The water in this zone is potable but the industry does not use it for a number of reasons, including the fact that the rights of the water belong to the surface owner and not the mineral rights owner. This is one of the reasons ag and oil generally get along because they are not fighting over water.
So, where does the oil industry get the water to make steam? They either get it from sewer treatment plants, such as the case of Santa Maria Energy, or they get it from the same place they get the oil- a mile or more underground. This water is not fresh-water. It can’t be used by farmers or urbanites for a variety of reasons, the primary reason being the water is saline and has extremely high mineral content.
Further, in the context of this discussion, the saline water in this zone was mixed with the oil by Mother Nature herself eons ago. This water comes up with the oil during the pumping operation. The industry separates the water from the oil, and either pumps the water back where it came from, or in the case of steam injection, cleans and softens the water before using it in the steaming process. In some instances, the producers actually clean up more water than they use, resulting in a water surplus that can be used for other purposes including some forms of agriculture.
So, if this ballot measure isn’t really about fracking or water, what is the real purpose? To ban oil production out of concern for climate as part of a national campaign.
This ban will result in tremendous costs to our local economy including multi-billion dollar lawsuits against the county for the taking of mineral rights, in addition to annual losses of over $15 million annually in property taxes to schools and the county fire department.
Jerry Brown’s realty check
Governor Jerry Brown referred to California as the “epicenter of climate change.” His reference can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. First, California already has the most expensive and draconian CO2 regulations, and secondly, we have a lot of coastline that could be subject to tidal inundation should sea levels rise. To his credit, Brown didn’t stop there. He gave Californians a reality check by referencing the fact that California’s 38 million residents drive approximately one billion miles a day. And, by the year 2020, that figure is expected to rise by 25 billion more miles per year.
While Brown was giving this speech, a group of anti-fracking activists were protesting outside. Their message in a nutshell was “climate leaders don’t frack” a reference to the fact that Brown vetoed legislation that would have created a fracking moratorium throughout the state.
In response, Brown stated in a CNN interview that, “We are not going to shut down a third of our oil production and force more oil coming from North Dakota, where they are fracking a lot more, to come by train or more boats and ships coming in from all over the world. We have got to start hammering at the demand as well as the sources of fossil fuel.”
One of the historical mantras of the environmental movement was to “think globally and act locally.” In this day and age, when the focus of activists is on global climate change, this mantra has now become a two-edged sword. More pointedly, selfish, nimby attitudes are inconsistent and incongruent with the goals of saving the planet from climate change.
By way of analogy, we have the local food movement. The rationale behind it is to grow and consume local produce in order to save the energy associated with food transport. Why isn’t this same logic applied to energy consumption?
Whereas, it is no surprise to people who read my editorials that I don’t believe in anthropomorphic causes of climate change, nonetheless, I do agree with the rest of Brown’s assessment of our situation. Namely, that the environmental community and the activists who have jumped on this anti-oil bandwagon can’t have it both ways. They can’t simply try to cut off local production without working to lower demands for the products consumed in such prodigious quantities because by doing so they will actually make things worse.
In other words, ridiculous as it is, California is importing oil from North Dakota and it is importing natural gas via Mexico because the demand for both is ever-increasing. This is happening as activists try to cut off local production which simply means more energy will be expended importing these supplies to California.
This is one of the reasons that I continually challenge our local activists to show some respect to our local oil and gas producers unless they themselves can demonstrate they can live without the use of these energy sources and byproducts throughout the course of their day. I want to visit the homes and places of work of these activists now masquerading as “water guardians.” Do they live and work off-grid? Do they live fossil-free? To Jerry Brown’s point, how many miles a year do they travel?
The activists claim that they are “saving us,” but fracking is not occurring here and if it were to occur, it is already regulated. With respect to protecting groundwater, they can’t cite any evidence of groundwater contamination here in Santa Barbara County. They are simply trying to scare us with horror stories from afar where different geologic conditions exist pertaining to their water and oil bearing formations.
Andy Caldwell is the executive director of COLAB and the host of the Andy Caldwell Show weekdays from 3 p.m. to 5 pm on News Press Radio AM1290 and AM1440.