5 Shocking Places Where Fracking Is Taking Off
Photo Credit: Pinedale Anticline DSEIS
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By now, many people have heard about the booming Bakken Shale in North Dakota where there is a mad rush for oil, enabled by the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a practice that pumps millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand underground to break rock and release hydrocarbons.
The Bakken has garnered big media attention and so too has Texas’s Eagle Ford Shale and the gas-rich Marcellus Shale in the Northeast. But more than these big shale plays are on the table. Fracking is happening in 17 states and more than 80,000 wells have been drilled or permitted in the last nine years -- some of these in surprising (and alarming) places.
From scenic coastal waters to vital agricultural land, here are five places where fracking could soon be taking off.
1. California's Vital Farmlands. Kern County in California’s Central Valley is part of the heart of the state’s $43 billion a year agriculture industry and it has made headlines frequently as ground zero for California’s crippling drought. Dairy is big in Kern and farmers (mostly large agribusiness) also grow almonds, pistachios, grapes, cotton, carrots, onions, citrus and much more.
Diminished water supplies and overdrawn aquifers have farmers offering big bucks for water this year. But they may have to outbid another heavy weight -- the oil industry. Kern County is the top oil-producing county in the state (although production tumbled nearly 50 percent between 1985 and 2011) and its Holy Grail is the Monterey Shale, a deep underground rock formation that was estimated to hold 13.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil – twice as much as North Dakota’s Bakken Shale.
Trying to get at more oil has meant more drilling and not just in Kern’s historical oilfields. In small agricultural towns in the county like Shafter and Wasco, wells are being drilled and now fracked in almond and pistachio orchards. It’s hard to tell exactly how many wells have been fracked – the state hasn’t required regulation of fracking, although that's in the works.
Maps like this one from FracTracker show clusters of fracked wells along the oilfields that line Highway 33 (also known as the Petroleum Highway) and around Shafter and Wasco. The state's Department of Conservation shows notices to hydraulically fracture 100 wells in Kern in the span of a month this spring.
Is Kern poised to take off like the Bakken? It’s unclear. Estimates of its vast reserves in the Monterey were recently reduced – drastically. The amount of oil now deemed economically recoverable was cut 96 percent, to 600 million barrels, although that hasn’t yet deterred industry from trying anyway.
2. Pacific Coast Waters. A six-month investigation by Truthout revealed last July that hydraulic fracking had occurred off the coast of California in the Santa Barbara Channel and no special permits or environmental review were required. Mike Ludwig wrote:
Truthout reported that an oil company called Venoco had quietly used fracking technology to stimulate oil production in an old well off the coast of Santa Barbara in early 2010. A Freedom of Information Act request recently filed by Truthout has confirmed the Venoco operation and revealed that another firm had since received permission for fracking in the Santa Barbara channel, which is home to the Channel Islands marine reserve .
This year, federal regulators approved an application by the Ventura-based company DCOR LLC to use fracking technology known as "frack pack" in a sandstone well 1,500 feet from a seismic fault in the outer continental shelf off the California coast, according to the documents released by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), the federal agency that permits offshore drilling.