Olivia Peluso is an English senior and Mustang News opinion editor. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a statement explaining their decision to allow fracking and oil drilling in eight California counties, including San Luis Obispo County. Land within Montaña de Oro and the Carrizo Plain National Monument are among the many sites subject to extraction. This decision is a downright irresponsible push by the BLM.
Fracking is an incredible threat to ecosystems and local water supply. I don’t think the potential risk it poses to our coastline is anywhere near worth the money it would generate.
The BLM Bakersfield Field Office issued a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in December that stated “there are no adverse environmental impacts due to hydraulic fracturing that cannot be alleviated.” However, this claim clearly dodges the threat fracking poses to the environment and public health, and instead reflects the BLM’s failure to address the facts in favor of profit. The areas now open to or planned for fracking are beautiful public lands, state beaches and parks, forests, and wildlife refuges, all of which are threatened if oil drilling is pursued. This hits especially hard in the context of our own county, which is home to many endemic (and thus already at risk) species.
There are several outright dangers of fracking outlined by the EPA. Fracking involves hydraulically fracturing shale to extract hydrocarbons. For this to occur, large quantities of water and chemicals must be injected underground. To accomplish this, a very large amount of water is mixed with an array of toxic chemical compounds to create “frack fluid.” Luckily, California has a law that requires companies to disclose what chemicals comprise their frack fluid within 60 days of the fracking operation, though the legal protection of businesses yields only partial disclosure in the long run. Even so, studies on more than 1,000 different chemicals used in fracking have consistently proven them to be toxic and have been linked to reproductive and developmental health problems.
During fracking, a large amount of the frack fluid returns to the surface, where it can spill or leak into rivers and streams. Underground water supplies can also be contaminated by fracking through the movement of gas and frack fluid below the surface. There is the potential for spillage during the handling of hydraulic fracturing fluids that results in high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources. Additionally, the hydraulic fracturing wastewater is sometimes stored and disposed of in unlined pits, which hold potential to contaminate groundwater resources. At the moment, there is no legislature that requires these pits to be lined.
Oil drilling and fracking would be especially heinous in the context of our coastline given the positioning of a few different fault lines. San Luis Obispo coastline is roughly 45 miles west of the San Andreas fault and roughly 20 miles north of the Rinconada fault. Shoreline Fault is located less than a mile offshore, as well as the Hosgri Fault, just several miles away.
New research from National Geographic shows that water left over from oil drilling and fracking actually strengthens the magnitude of earthquakes by adding stress to the fault lines. This happens mainly because wastewater generated by oil extraction is often injected back into the ground. This wastewater is brackish and therefore much denser than the water initially extracted, and thus sinks much faster. Scientists say the sinking exerts more pressure on faults and increases the chance of triggering a high magnitude earthquake. Given our positioning, oil drilling in this area is a recipe for great loss.
The BLM justified their decision to open the lands to fracking with Executive Order 13783: Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth and Secretarial Order 3349: American Energy Independence, which promote “environmentally responsible energy development, while creating jobs and providing economic opportunities for local communities.” While the “environmentally responsible” aspect of the order was daintily tossed out the window, the decision is definitely estimated to bring in some money. The BLM estimates the development of oil and gas on public lands will create approximately 3,500 jobs and upwards of $200 million annually. Additionally, the BLM collects a 12.5 percent royalty on every barrel of oil and gas produced on federal minerals. Of these, the BLM shares about 50 percent of oil and gas royalties collected with California, while the remaining 50 percent is paid to the United States Treasury. I don’t believe this money is worth compromising our coast.
These double-digit million-dollar estimates seem like a massive amount of money; in the bigger picture of federal income and debt, these numbers are hardly significant enough to fill dents in the system. When the actual economic benefit is weighed with the potential cost, they’d spend more on clean-up than they would make in revenue.
This is why the State of California, represented by the international firm Earthjustice, is suing the Bureau of Land Management. In the introduction of the case, it reads: “BLM’s analysis again fails to take a ‘hard look’ at many of the significant impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing or provide sufficient evidence regarding its conclusions, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq.” Also, local officials such as San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon and Morro Bay Mayor John Headding, among many other elected officials, are taking a stand and calling for immediate action to protect our state against oil drilling and fracking.
California has actively tried to find a way to rationally address its limited water supply. Now the BLM is condoning and facilitating business that can contaminate these precious water supplies and coastlines with toxic chemicals. The plan threatens the incredible landscapes that define this area and endangers the creatures that inhabit it. Why are we moving away from a clean energy future? Have we not been urged to make drastic cuts to greenhouse gas pollution? Federal fossil fuel production causes about a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Now is simply not the time to settle into complacency as the government regurgitates practices we know are harmful for the sake of profit. Places like Montaña de Oro and Carrizo Plains are blessings; we should be working to conserve and preserve them, not exploit.
If you are worried about the future of San Luis Obispo County and oil drilling, there are ways to get involved. The Center for Biological Diversity has links to local and statewide efforts in opposition to fracking, where you can engage yourself to any degree, from signing a petition to starting a local campaign. I urge all who live and love San Luis Obispo to take an active stand against that which seeks to exploit our beautiful coast and county. You can also visit the Elected Officials to Protect California website to read more on statewide efforts.