Bay Crossings Article

Fracking for Oil Menaces San Francisco Bay

Deb Self
From the June 2013 edition of Bay Crossings

Fracking—the process of injecting water, sand and toxic chemicals underground at high pressure to extract oil or gas—threatens San Francisco Bay. The technique, officially called hydraulic fracturing, is currently being used in hundreds of California gas and oil wells, with no regulation or protection for the environment or public health.

Oil companies in California are increasing their use of unconventional drilling to get at an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil under an area that stretches from the northern San Joaquin Valley into Los Angeles County, and west to the coast. Some of the land over this oil deposit, known as the Monterey shale, is in San Francisco Bay’s watershed. Oil also lies beneath the Coastal Range in the Bay Area.

Fracking poses many risks. Injecting fracking fluid and water into wells at high pressures can result in oil spills that impact our rivers and creeks. Currently there are no requirements for reporting such spills and no funding for containment or cleanup, even if a spill were reported.

Bay Area refineries will also be processing much of this new oil, which is even dirtier than the Alberta Tar Sands oil. Then the oil will likely be loaded onto tankers that cross San Francisco Bay for export or for burning in other states, increasing the risk of oil being spilled into the Bay.

Elsewhere in the country, fracking has contaminated drinking water aquifers. California has no controls on what is injected underground, no restrictions on where it is injected, and no requirements to report that information to the state. There are also no requirements that groundwater near fracked wells be monitored for contamination.

In addition, each "frack" uses millions of gallons of water. As Delta smelt and salmon struggle with the dewatering of the Delta, we’re facing the driest calendar year in California’s recorded history. Allowing oil companies to use our water for fracking is irresponsible.

On top of that, the U.S. Geological Survey has determined that fracking has triggered earthquakes, even in such places as the seismically dormant Midwest. Corporations should not be allowed to create further risk to the environment and public safety by activating California’s major earthquake faults in pursuit of oil.

As California’s oil and gas regulatory agency has begun drafting minimalist regulations on fracking, they’ve proposed to extend the federal "Halliburton loophole" to protect oil companies from sharing critical public health information. The rule would allow oil companies to protect as "trade secrets" the exact toxic chemical mix used in fracking fluid. Under the current draft, a trade-secret gag rule would even keep physicians from discussing chemical exposure with their patients.

For years, the oil industry has gotten away with extracting oil from California’s bedrock for private profit. Now they want to take it to a whole new level with fracking, by contaminating groundwater that belongs to the public, endangering public health, and polluting rivers and streams that flow into San Francisco Bay—all without accountability.

Baykeeper is advocating on your behalf to protect the Bay and all of California from fracking. We support a proposed bill in the California legislature that puts a moratorium on fracking in the state. Meanwhile, we’re working hard to secure strong regulations from the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency. These regulations would require groundwater monitoring before and after fracking; public disclosure of the location, chemicals and amount of water used; protection and cleanup of surface waters in case of oil spills caused by well blow-outs; and a ban on using California’s fresh water supplies for fracking.