What fracking is all about
A View from Above
Extracting oil and natural gas from the earth have become a normal part of business in order to maintain an accustomed-to quality of life – but some ask, at what cost to the environment?
What is Fracking? Until recently the term ‘fracking’ was relatively unknown. However, drilling for oil, fracturing or cracking (man-made or natural) the earth’s surface, has been taking place for as long as there has been a need for oil to maintain the nation’s quality of life and standard of living … and some say even before. (Petroleum engineers have used fracking as a means of increasing well production since the late 1940s). Fractures can also exist naturally in formations, and both natural and man-made fractures can be widened by fracking. As a result, more oil and gas can be extracted from a given area of land. A slang (hybrid) term for hydraulic fracturing, fracking refers to the procedure of creating fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks to force them to further open. The larger fissures allow more oil and gas to flow out of the formation and into the well-bore, from where oil can be extracted. Experts say that fracking has resulted in many oil and gas wells attaining economic viability, due to the level of extraction that can be reached. All in all, it is really a combination of all of the above … and more.
Some time ago, the County Board of Supervisors supported proposed legislation that required oil and gas companies to disclose what chemicals they use during the extraction of oil and natural gas: that process is known as hydraulic fracking. Oil industry ‘experts’ say that without fracking, the oil – that the country desperately needs – would be inaccessible (in some areas). Therefore, this seemingly ‘new’ technology allows oil companies to inject a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals, at high pressure, into underground wells to break up rock formations to be able to extract reserves of oil and gas in California (and other states) that once were out of reach.
What has surfaced (sic) in recent times, in California and other states, is the unintended consequences of fracking on neighboring communities in general: the impact on the environment (physical and otherwise) and the quality of life; and also the benefits and liabilities on those communities. Concern about safeguarding the public prompted Assembly Bill 591 requiring the names of the chemicals injected into the wells to be posted on the State of California’s Natural Resources Agency’s Division of Oil, Geothermal, and Gas Resource’s (DOGGR) website. According to the bill’s sponsor, the rationale behind the disclosure was preventative, not punitive, with the goal of averting the kinds of water contamination problems that have surfaced in other states causing potential health hazards.
A while ago, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said, “This information is needed so that the environmental impacts of this technique can be considered and addressed,” as he led the motion, before the Board of Supervisors, in support of the proposed assembly bill (AB591). “Significantly, the legislation would require disclosure prior to the issuance of drilling permits,” he said.
“The legislation promotes transparency,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added, “furthermore, it holds oil and gas companies accountable and safeguards county residents who live near oilfields such as those in the Baldwin Hills and Culver City areas. Residents have a right to know what chemicals are present in their neighborhoods. This is a matter of health, safety, and environmental impact.” Because current national and state regulatory agencies have yet to catch up on regulatory requirements; they have not require companies to reveal the type and quantity of chemicals used in fracking. (A great part of the Supervisor’s concern is borne out of his continuous efforts seeking justice for the former residents of Ujima Village – located in his district – where apparent soil contamination from nearby oil fields was responsible for the village becoming a health hazard. A somewhat massive lawsuit has resulted since).
OIL AND OBLIGATIONS
When Exxon released its first quarterly profits from 2011, it showed that the mega oil company made $10 billion. By any standard, this profit is staggering, considering the price of oil products to the average consumer has been steadily rising. In addition, there are current rumors that oil companies are not meeting their “good corporate citizen” obligations which infuriate Americans considering the staggering profits. And the general feeling out there is that Exxon, Chevron and others are acting in complete disregard for the welfare of “our” country.
With gas prices approaching $5 per gallon, the aggregate profits for big oil companies may exceed the net profits of the next 25 Fortune companies combined. According to some estimates, their profits are the largest in the history of American business, and in today’s economic climate, they come at a time when the America economy is still staggering to fully improve.
Several years after a financial meltdown (the auto, housing and banking industries, etc.) led the U.S. to the brink of disaster, the crisis for the average American household continues. According to the government and the economists, the economy is improving, but individual families are still in the economic doldrums. The gauge used to measure the upward mobility of the economy is the many corporations have regained their footing – the corporate yardstick. Corporate profits are up, stocks are markedly rising and many companies have accumulated mountains of cash. No industry appears to have profited more than oil companies.
THE COMMUNITY’S CONCERN
According the reports from residents during a town hall meeting, representatives from one oil companies claim that the oil companies generally “provide jobs and capital investment to an economically depressed location.” Also in one year, an oil company reportedly paid $10.2 million in taxes to the county. The Culver Crest Neighborhood Association (CCNA) stated that their worst fears were confirmed when they learned about the exchanges between the state and one oil company. CCNA then issued the following statement: “These revelations shock our faith in the integrity of the oversight process for oil drilling in our community; both the regulators and the oil company (in this case) acted irresponsibly … this is a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house, and we (the community) are the defenseless chickens.”
At a more recent meeting, residents of the surrounding area of an oil drilling operation sat in discussing the procedures of drilling and potential problems that could possibly occur. Representatives from the DOGGR were present to explain the process and to answer questions.
Many found it frustrating that DOGGR couldn’t (or wouldn’t) answer some very important questions directly. Many concerned citizens wanted to know about fracking and its direct effect on the environment. Some or most questions went unanswered as the meeting drew to a close. Some citizens voiced their concerns about the process.
“My concerns are the toxic fumes that can be emitted from the ground… contaminating our water wells and the fact that we don’t have any say as a community, whether or not we want the [fracking] or not-or drilling period,” said Rhonda B. When asked how she felt about the meeting, she responded, “It’s just a bunch of huff.”
“We want to know what is going on here,” said Margaret B. “We want our elected officials to stop allowing these permits to be granted until they know that this [drilling] is safe for us. I want to know what is being injected in the fracking fluid, I want to know what the radioactive isotopes are and what effect that’s going to have on my health and the health of my community.”
When asked how she felt about the meeting, she responded, “I think this is basically a sham. “The experts, who are supposed to come and give us answers … did you hear them answer tonight? They all said, we don’t have the information on that-we’ll have to get back to you, we have to talk to our attorneys.”
“I’m very proud of the people who turned out here tonight,” said Patricia McPherson, President of Grass Roots Coalition, “to speak as eloquently as they did, to ask the questions that they know now to ask because they’ve gotten involved.”
McPherson engaged the officials on hand with incidents, and was armed with studies on fracking, and issues associated with the process. During the meeting, she raised questions and concerns, which gave the community much to think about.
“They understand a lot of what’s going on and yet, there are so many things that are unanswered, but they’ve been able to pin point what’s unanswered. When asked about how effective these meetings, about drilling and fracking are? She responded, “They can be, and this will be.
“Nothing needs to stop because of the resolution of a lawsuit that occurred-someone could always sue again,” she continued, “Things can always move forward… this is actually a start-up I think to even push harder.”
The community in the surrounding areas overall are uncomfortable despite the information given at these town hall meetings. The information given is not the information asked for-Is fracking safe?
“The [oil] corporation says, ‘We get to control this area,’ and I don’t think that is fair,” said Geneva M., a resident of View Park . “I think corporations need to be in the service of the people-not the other way around. We’re not beholden unto them, but somehow or another, in these modern times, they’re getting worse and worse. We only get to know after they’ve done something.” When asked about the about meeting she replied, “I think it was effective.
“It started the conversation.”