Fracking in California

Stories about fracking — the short term for hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting fluids and chemicals into the earth to push out natural gas and other hard-to-mine fossile fuels — usually carry datelines from places like Pennsylvania or North Dakota, home to the massive underground shale formations that have powered the U.S.’s current natural gas boom.

But, yes, even as California pushes to meet its goal of producing 33 percent of its power from renewable sources, the state also  has about 459 drilling sites where fracking is being used. The California fracking sites are a small but significant part of the almost 30,000 on a national map at FracFocus.org, a website that tracks where the technology is being used and the chemicals and environmental impacts involved.

The website is a joint project of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a group seeking to balance energy production and environmental concerns, so it avoids the politics, and goes for an informative, low-key tone.

And you can drill down into the map, showing where different drilling sites are.

The information could become important since California has its own shale formation, called the Monterey Formation, that could be the largest and richest in the nation.

According to an article on the San Francisco Chronicle website, five environmental groups on Tuesday filed a law suit against the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, charging it is allowing companies to drill mines that use fracking without first filing an environmental impact report, which they argue is required under the California Environmental Quality Act, aka CEQA.

“We’ve learned in our state-by-state fights that in the face of intense industry  pressure, state agencies need to be pushed to do the right thing,” said George Torgun, an attorney with Earthjustice. “That’s what this suit is  all about.”

While there is no fracking in our immediate area, Los Angeles County has a handful of drilling sites, and Kern County is close enough to raise red flags at the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which last month held a day-long symposium on fracking and its environmental impacts.

You can find an archived webcast of the symposium here or read a staff report on it here.

The AQMD is working on new rules to deal with pollution and emissions from fracking, and the report raises the possibility that mining firms could have to make public the chemicals they are using (already requierd under federal law) as well as rules requiring companies to use the best available technology and practices to reduce emissions.