Let’s fact check the fracktivists

August 2, 2014
Andy Caldwell

Andy Caldwell

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.


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Rambunctious

The one inescapable fact is….When humans have a strong held mission with no foundation; they will lie.


shelworth

Using calm, reasonable logic against the looney tunes left will probably not work.


Jon Tatro

Well written Andy, for those of you who say don’t drill or frack in my backyard please tell me you do not drive a car or use petroleum based products in any way? If you oppose exploration of our oil preserves and drive a car you are hypocrite. Obviously you prefer oil exploration in someone else’s backyard because you only care about yourself. If you are a true believer in the no frakking no drilling philosophy it starts with you. If you stop using any oil based products I will listen to you…….uh oh, you are using a computer made with petroleum based products, quick drop it and run away you phony.


Jeanne Blackwell

Let me ask you this if you are for fracking do you breathe air and drink water? Because you can’t live without those things and fracking destroys every living thing it comes in contact with. That is a scientific fact. So, if you love oil so much you want to eat, breathe and wallow in it what does that make you? A machine. If you believe in fracking then it starts with you. Stop breathing the air and using the water.


Jon Tatro

Ok quote your sources Jeanne that “fracking destroys every living thing it comes in contact with.” “That is a scientific fact.” Please link or name the Scientific Journal backing up your absolute claim. I’ll be waiting for your response but you won’t because you made up that “Scientific Fact” because that is what your side does.


SLOthinker

I think you need to adjust your tinfoil cap, it seems to have slipped over your eyes and clouded your vision.


MaryMalone

Great reply.


There is a reason the CEO of Exxon has sued to have the fracking well on the property next to his residence removed.


MaryMalone

Is there a fracking well in your back yard?


J4flat_tire

I wonder how many of these dislikes would turn into likes if gasoline hit $10 a gallon? I’m sure most of them didn’t even read the article. The water used for fracking generally comes from a mile down, is saline which means salt water and is useless for anything else.


fishing village

Rational letter explaining the situation! thank you for writing it, Mr. Caldwell. All we hear is complaining about ‘imported oil’, and when we have a chance to get it locally there is another outcry. Yes, this is just another way to get in the way of oil production. Thank you for the FACTS!!


MajorityFan

Rational? He believes the earth is flat.


MaryMalone

I wonder how many likes would turn to dislikes if the cost of water rose to $10 a gallon?


shudacuda

Ostensibly,if you give the oil companies an inch,they will take a vertical mile.I would rather not live with the constant threat of earthquakes like they do in Oklahoma.


Randy Sheila

Just like the risks of drilling for oil right off the coast, which yielded one of the nastiest environmental disasters and oil spills in (Santa Barbara) history, the risks don’t outweigh the benefits. Characterizing folks who are not in agreement as selfish NIMBY’s is wrong and I question any further evaluation by this author. Obviously, he is emotionally connected to the outcome at the sacrifice of his objectivity. Local folks WILL pay to have energy imported here as we always have until safer, more trusted technologies can provide cleaner, safer energy. The author can continue to pursue fighting his dragon/windmills but the fact is that this is Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo and the majority of folks do not agree with you. They value their environment and quality of life and won’t risk it to profiteering energy seekers for a questionable discount on energy costs. Remember, the world market dictates gas prices, not local suppliers.


racket

It sure takes a lot of words for you to call me a NIMBY.


MaryMalone

There is nothing wrong with being a NIMBY.


The accusation of being a NIMBY implies that unless you are willing to change the entire planet, you are being selfish.


Actually, NIMBIES usually work for change locally first. In doing so, they are honoring the wishes of those who live in areas where objectionable practices or policies are controlled by other people.


Unfortunately for the fractivists and the frackhos, most of the practices and policies associated with cracking impact the entire planet.


I am proud to be both a NIMBY and a fractivist. I am part of a large and illustrious group of people…including the CEO of Exxon who has sued for the removal of the fracking well on the property next to his.


Perspicacious

No sign of that “disaster” now. How bad could it have been? The risks do NOT outweigh the advantages.


MajorityFan

The beaches from Santa Barbara to Oxnard still have lots of oil tar in the sand. Foot cleaning stations with paper towels and solvent are plentiful. Obvious signs from over 40 years ago.


racket

I’m not very sure about that. The internet seems to think the tarballs are due to natural seeps.


kettle

I have seen oil seeps not far from mussel rock (north of point sal) and there are the oil leaking from cracks in price cyn.


So it happens.


racket

Dude, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good scare tactic.


The Prius/sheeple don’t care if it’s naturally-occurring or not. What they care about is furthering their NIMBY agenda.


ironyman2000

Read one line of this and then another. They do not jibe. This is jive. Caldwell is a

long time self-promoting goofball. He has been trying to get his face into the public’s

for decades.

Pay no heed to the jabberwock behind the curtain.


MaryMalone

Tell that to the CEO of Exxon. See if you can convince him to withdraw the lawsuit for removal of the fracking operation located on the property next to him.


SloBus

One point of clarification for those who fact check the fracktivists, and let me preface this with I am not siding with one side or the other, but fracking HAS occurred in Santa Barbara County. Vaquero Energy fracked a well on 135 just north of Los Alamos approximately 3 years ago and they were planning to (or had) fracked another well or two in the Careaga Lease also off 135 north of Los Alamos. This is the cause for all of these fracking discussions in the county since back then the driller wasn’t required to report how a well was to be drilled. If you dig even further, there was a spill report for a minimal surface spill at that location. Just an FYI. Know the facts first…


SloBus

Correction to my comment above, it was Venoco. They purchased several wells from Vaquero Energy.


OnTheOtherHand

Thanks for your counterpoint. Having read and heard some of Caldwell’s other editorializing, I don’t have a lot of trust for either his objectivity or even his honesty. He makes some good points here but they are based on “facts” about fracking that I would want to see verified and statements about the motivation of those he opposes that may not be entirely true either.


We do need to keep producing oil as there are not enough alternative energy sources to even come close to replacing it. However, fracking is potentially dangerous to ground water and the fact that Santa Barbara County has “different geologic conditions exist pertaining to their water and oil bearing formations” does not mean that it couldn’t happen here too.


Fracking does not pollute ground water in most places where it is used but, given the scarcity of water in our region, we can’t accept even a small risk of losing a major source. Traditional methods will have to suffice even if they are less cost-effective. If steam injection is as safe and unimpactful as Caldwell says it is, I would be inclined to accept it too. I am not sure how I would vote on this if I lived in SB County. I guess I would have to read up on the actual measure and not really on Caldwell’s (or anyone else’) interpretation of it.


MaryMalone

Actually, because of extremely lax oversight of the impact of oil drilling, including fracking, of our groundwater supply, we are largely clueless as to the impact these activities have had on our groundwater basins.


There is state legislation on the way which will require a closer surveillance, but, realistically, “require” and “accomplish” are two different things…especially when we are dealing with the well-funded hos in the oil industry and our ever-greedy politicians and special interests.


Ben Daho

I say “ban” then you point is moot.