Saturday, June 25, 2016

Feds Approve More Fracking off California Coast

Sounds horrible, doesn't it?

On May 27, 2016 two bureaus of the federal government - BOEM and BSEE - both tasked with protection of offshore waters and the promotion of energy from those same waters, announced approval for well stimulation treatment (WST) to increase the extraction efficiency of existing oil wells off the California coast.  Most of these wells have been producing oil for many years but are now faced with depletion rates that make further extraction unfeasible unless they are allowed to use newer techniques and technologies.  Among those techniques are different forms of what is commonly known as "fracking."  As most people concerned with environmental issues know, fracking is potentially dangerous and harmful to the environment if improperly regulated.  We also know that drilling in ocean waters is fundamentally more difficult and dangerous than drilling on land.  That said, it bears examination as to whether the concerns of those wishing to prevent further oil extraction are not exaggerated, in this case.

Some of the deepest roots of today's environmental movement trace themselves to the disastrous Santa Barbara oil spill the 1969, when nearly 100,000 barrels of oil polluted the shores of Santa Barbara to Ventura and the Channel Islands, killing thousands of sea life and blocking the enjoyment of the natural world.  It remains the third largest oil spill in US history, after Exxon Valdez and the Gulf.  The disaster also gave rise to the Clean Water Act, the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and numerous environmental advocacy groups throughout America.  These groups and agencies continue to ensure that corporations comply with environmental protections and do a great deal to both educate the public and protect those public lands that we are all entitled to enjoy.

More importantly, perhaps, the consciousness of America was greatly impacted.  A sudden realization took hold of an increasingly large portion of people that America was beset by a different sort of threat, a potential suicidal urge that would destroy the quality of life to the extent that we are in danger from the way our society operates and produces wealth.  The oil spill and many similar disasters changed perceptions of our responsibilities and altered our view of values long accepted as good and virtuous: that the pursuit of wealth is the highest good; that the natural resources of the world are ours to exploit and to use in any way we see fit; that the natural world is our servant and obliged to disgorge all its wealth, whenever we call, for our benefit.  Those assumptions no longer have any legitimacy, even within the oil industry.

The industry has been turned on its head.  It is now accepted that some kind of carbon tax, which accurately costs the pollution created by extraction and burning, is inevitable.  It has long been known that most conventional reserves have been depleted and it is only a matter of years before shale deposits - the same that must be extracted using fracking - will soon be exhausted.  A cross current of objectives and reality occurs: while trying to exploit as much as possible, the oil industry is preparing for the day when their industry must inevitably and is already, changed.  Every drop of oil is now harder to get and because capital investment costs are so high, the need to extract every drop to pay off debt becomes an enormous pressure to keep drilling for harder to get oil.  Unfortunately, as more oil reaches market under these economic pressures, the price of oil drops creating more financial pressure to keep fracking and drilling.  And to this increasing pressure from government agencies to enforce strict safety measures and increasing pressure from the environmental movement to stop drilling altogether, the oil industry is headed for oblivion.

Government policy has a two headed dragon to contend with here: On the one hand, there must be strict rules to prevent further accidents and protect the environment but on the other hand, the resources of the natural world do contribute to the economic well being of its citizens.

Which bring us to the approval for drilling off the coast of California.  The approval to use fracking by BOEM and BSEE, limit the approval to existing wells that are already producing oil but at decreasing levels - 42 wells to be exact.  The agency expects the industry to use WST at about 5 wells, according to their reports.  There is an obvious conclusion to be made here: the oil to be extracted doesn't amount to much and the request for fracking techniques is merely to give a few existing wells a few extra years of production so that as much profit can be had as possible.

But in granting license to the industry to use WST on a few existing wells, what does the government demand in return?  According to the BOEM:

An Environmental Impact Study must be prepared;
Companies must provide bonds to cover financial loss;
Drilling is limited to existing locations previously approved by the government;
There must full and complete compliance with safety regulations and environmental protections;
Techniques and technologies used must comply with federal and state standards and are subject to periodic inspection and improvement, if necessary;
There must be fair market value returned to taxpayers for the right to drill offshore;
And, in the event of a spill, liability for clean up is laid strictly upon the industry.

The point of all this discourse is to illustrate that while some industrial practices like fracking can be potentially dangerous, the government is vigilant.  There are obstacles that the industry must overcome if they want and need to do this sort of production.  In other words, the government is doing its part.

Which begs the question: Are we doing our part?  It's not enough to protest a rule or a process that is already underway.  There are many opportunities for citizens to have their voices heard during these hearings that lead to rule making but they require the same vigilance we demand of our government.  Howling before the fact is what matters, not complaining afterwards.  People may protest that their lives are busy and it's hard to know which agency to lobby and how can anyone find out what's being planned before it happens, anyway?

The answer is simple: join an nonprofit environmental organization that speaks to the issues you want addressed: There are hundreds to choose, from the Sierra Club to a local beach protection nonprofit.

Follow this link to discover some of the better known organizations that can use your support and are committed to protecting the lands and waters we all share and revere:

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