The Drought and Fracking

Fracking and waterFracking requires vast amounts of water, where it will come from in a parched state

by Brian Leubitz

I’ve been writing a lot about the drought, more than I’ve wanted to recently. But the hits just keep on coming. In recent news, there is word that up to two million acres may be apportioned no water at all, thereby made to lie fallow. Of course, some of this is simply mandated by mathematics. To give enough water to the best farmland, you must let some lie fallow. The Republicans argue that we can simply take from the water we release to the rivers and the Bay, but that simply pits other interests against each other, most notably fishermen, of both the sporting and commercial varieties. George Skelton has a good take on this:

Don’t blame the little fish. And don’t call it the Central Valley.

Both comments, repeated incessantly, were irritants during President Obama’s visit to parched California farm country last week.

The president was there-in the San Joaquin Valley-to cuddle with water hogs. The hogs are large growers who use lots of water, have just about run out and are angry because they’re being denied other people’s. And they keep complaining that the government is favoring a little “bait fish” over farmers.

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So water deliveries have been restricted not just for smelt, but also to protect salmon and the coastal fishing industry. It’s not about farmers vs. fish. It’s about farmers vs. fishermen. Or almonds vs. salmon. (LA Times / George Skelton)

Read the whole Skelton piece, it is a refreshingly honest take on the various interests that you don’t often see these days. Water interests are varied, and can’t simply be boiled down to farmers vs smelt. Skelton rephrases that debate as “almonds vs. salmon”, a far more apt analogy. But, there is another huge water hog wating to join the queue for our very limited trough: the fracking industry.

Of course, water usage isn’t probably the first concern of most environmentalists, myself included, with respect to fracking. The issues are deep and pervasive, there are many questions that remain unanswered. Issues of safety, water quality, and seismic stability are far from fully researched and should give the state pause. This is especially true in the days after a major fracking accident in Pennsylvania. (But don’t worry, they’ll give you a free pizza)

In places like Pennsylvania, where there is plenty of water for the moment, this isn’t that big of an issue. But, the Times looks to Greeley, Colorado, itself in the midst of a drought. While it is not as severe as our own right now, water is always precious in the West. It takes a lot of water to operate hydraulic fracturing (thus the hydraulic part of that phrase):

Last fall the Environment America Research and Policy Center estimated that at least 250 billion gallons of water had been used since 2005 in the estimated 80,000 wells in 17 states. Drought-prone Texas led the way with at least 110 billion gallons.(LA Times / Jenny Deam)

As we move forward with hydraulic fracturing in what is expected to be a large reserve of natural gas in our Monterey shale, perhaps Alex Prud’homme asks the right question, will it be a boom or a boondoggle. It is imperative that we consider all the costs, both internal and external, before we move forward with any plan to aggressively tap our shale.

One thought on “The Drought and Fracking”

  1. …the most urgent and obvious — given the enormous quantities of water it uses– is that we are in the midst of an historic drought.  In these circumstances,  imposition of a fracking moratorium is a no-brainer.

    Beyond this, I am not the first (nor the first at this site) to note the following: i) fracking is implicated in seismic instability, of which we have already a surfeit in the Golden State, ii) no one, but no one, understands the migration of fracking cocktails once injected into the earth.  The potential for contamination of existing aquifers must give us pause — we can live without petrochemicals, but not without water.  iii) The fact that frackers have not been compelled to disgorge their cocktail ingredients is, in my view, nothing short of scandal.  The claim of trade secrets is shallow and a transparent ruse– doubtless, there would be an uproar not to mention outcry, if people knew what was in this stuff.

    In the end it all comes down to water.

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