.Fracking During a Drought Is Crazy

The governor wants us to slash water use by 20 percent but is doing nothing about the massive amounts of water that Big Oil and Gas waste during fracking.

When Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency late last week, he urged California residents to reduce water use by 20 percent. The governor’s request seemed reasonable, considering the fact that the state just experienced its driest calendar year on record and the Sierra snowpack now stands at less than 20 percent of normal. The National Weather Service also predicted last week that California’s thirteen-month-long dry spell will last at least three more months, meaning that the state could be facing its worst-ever drought — and its worst-ever water crisis. In his official drought declaration, Brown also outlined steps his administration will take to conserve water throughout the state. But the governor left out one key area in which California could save copious amounts of water at a time when it can ill-afford to waste any — fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, is the controversial oil- and gas-extraction method that involves shooting water and toxic chemicals deep into the earth to release fossil fuel deposits. Fracking has brought on an oil and natural gas boon nationwide. But it also uses massive amounts of water. According to a report by NPR in Pennsylvania, each fracking well needs a total of about 4.4 million gallons of water on average — and most of that is used in just three to five days. In addition, none of that water is recoverable for use in homes or farming. To put that in perspective, 4.4 million gallons is enough water to supply the homes of 11,000 American families for one day.

If the oil and gas industry has its way, there will be a lot more than one fracking well in California, of course. According to estimates by the environmental group Oil Change International, which closely monitors fracking nationwide, there soon could be thousands of fracking wells in the state. Oil and gas companies are intensely interested in exploiting California’s Monterey Shale deposit, which holds an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil that can only be accessed through fracking. Getting that oil will cost California billions — perhaps tens of billions of gallons — of water.

And yet Brown has not announced any plans to curtail fracking during the drought. “It seems kind of crazy to be asking Californians to be conscious of their water usage at a time when oil companies can apparently use as much as they wish,” said David Turnbull of Oil Change International.

During the past few years, environmental groups have been pushing for a moratorium on fracking in California until the environmental impacts from the process can be fully assessed. Many environmentalists then began showing up at Brown’s public speaking events and calling on him to implement a ban on fracking after he signed SB 4 last September. Instead of a moratorium, the industry-friendly bill requires that the state approve all fracking requests over the next eighteen months or so while regulators complete a comprehensive environmental review.

What we already know about fracking is cause for deep concern. According to a recent investigation by the Associated Press, oil and gas drilling has been confirmed as having caused groundwater pollution in at least three states — Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia — and there’s evidence of contamination in a fourth, Texas.

Moreover, fracking is increasing our reliance on fossil fuels at a time when we should be transitioning rapidly to renewables — climate change and the current drought have made this fact abundantly clear. Plus, fracking unleashes carbon from the ground into the atmosphere, which worsens climate change. “Our state cannot afford to waste more water digging up oil, causing the very climate changes that will lead to more droughts like these in the future,” Turnbull added in a statement.

He’s right, of course. Fracking was never a good idea. And in a drought, it’s downright crazy.

Three-Dot Roundup

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