Back to Next Generation

Distracted by fracking?

 

 

Distracted by fracking?

Hello readers! I apologize for Kate’s Cliffnotes coming a day late this week. I have a good excuse: my 6 year old daughter had a sleepover on Tuesday night, when I normally would have been writing my post for Wednesday. Not only did she and her friend stay up far too late, but then said friend ended up getting so homesick that she had to be picked up at 1 a.m. by her parents. So I didn’t have much time to get my post done (or sleep, for that matter).

If I were really good I’d connect that story somehow to California climate and energy policy.  Instead, this awkward transition…

The California legislative session is nearly over – September 13 is the final day for both houses to pass bills this year. One bill still left standing is SB 4, Sen. Fran Pavley’s bill to regulate fracking, aka hydraulic fracturing, as well as a lesser known extraction technique called “acid well stimulation.”

What is acid well stimulation, you ask?  Next Generation has the answer!  This morning, we released the first installment in our online series about the Monterey Shale, written by Rob Collier.  The first piece looks directly at acid well stimulation, which involves injecting hydrofluoric acid into an oil well to dissolve deeply buried rock formations, allowing oil to seep back up to the surface.  Rob’s early research actually influenced Senator Pavley to explicitly include acidization in her bill, which is a good thing, given that hydrofluoric acid is “one of the most dangerous of all fluids used in oil production” but isn’t currently regulated in California.

Speaker Perez said on Monday that he thinks SB 4 will pass, describing it as “very solid, strict.” But even if it does pass, it won’t reach the fracking that’s already happening in the waters off the California coast.  These projects are nominally regulated by the federal government, but given that fracking is exempt from the federal Clean Water Act (and a bunch of other federal laws), they don’t have much authority. And as for state officials, they apparently (amazingly) “were unaware until recently that offshore fracking was even occurring.”  

Every day, new technologies are being developed to limit the potential environmental damage from these kinds of drilling projects – my favorite is the Gasbot, a new Swedish robot that can spot methane leaks (though not, sadly, contain them).  But the bottom line is that oil and gas, while a critical part of our current energy economy, are tricky and risky to get at. They leak, they spill, they catch fire (just ask the City of Richmond, which is now suing Chevron one year after the refinery blaze that sent 15,000 local residents to area medical centers).  And they release so much carbon that they actually put the whole planet at risk. Even the financial sector is starting to get this, as my colleague Pat McVeigh notes in this week’s Pat’s Picks column.

I’m not one of those people that thinks we can drop fossil fuels today and build a whole replacement sustainable energy system tomorrow. But I do think we can do that over time, and that we need to start now.  After all, we just learned from NOAA satellites that last year was one of 10 warmest on record.  

The good news, as always, is that there are indeed energy alternatives and they are getting cheaper, better, more widespread, and more popular every day.  Just a couple days ago, the Department of Energy reported that wind power was the fastest growing energy source in the U.S. in 2012. Over at Berkeley, the indefatigable Dan Kammen and his band of students just proved that by 2050, solar energy could provide a third of the power needs of the 14 western-most U.S. states, plus parts of Canada and Mexico. And Californians want to see this transition: PPIC’s great new poll on environmental attitudes across the state shows that solid majorities of Californians of every political stripe take climate change seriously and want to see more renewable energy and efficiency to curb its effects.  (The entire poll is worth reading. You can find it here.)

That’s it for me; my sleep deprivation just caught up with me and if I don’t stop typing this post will devolve into nonsense. I’m on vacation in eastern Quebec next week so won’t be writing a post – and that turns out to be great news for you readers, because none other than ARB Chairman Mary Nichols is going to guest-write the blog! Look out for her contribution next Wednesday morning.  

A bientôt!

 

News

Solar Could Provide One-Third Of The Western U.S.’s Power Needs By 2050

Solar power could supply one-third of the West’s power needs by 2050 if federal cost-reduction targets are met and the region adopts reasonable carbon policies, according to a new study from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.
05/Aug » ClimateProgress

U.S. wind power fastest-growing energy source in 2012, report says

In a first, wind energy became the No. 1 source of new U.S. electricity generation capacity in 2012, according to a report released by the Energy Department on Tuesday.
06/Aug » Los Angeles Times

Move state green power mandate to 90%, and technology will follow, advocates say

The issue came up as ARB staff meet with the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, which is advising the agency as it develops an update to its scoping plan. The revisions will establish ARB's climate change priorities for the next five years and are intended to lay the groundwork for reaching the state's post-2020 goals. Those include by 2050 shrinking greenhouse gas reductions to 80 percent below 1990 levels.
06/Aug » ClimateWire

Chevron agrees to pay $2M in Calif. refinery fire

Chevron Corp. on Monday agreed to pay $2 million in fines and restitution and pleaded no contest to six charges in a fire last summer at its refinery in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Richmond that sent thousands of residents to hospitals, many complaining of respiratory problems.
05/Aug » Fresno Bee

2012 was one of the 10 warmest years on record globally

Worldwide, 2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record according to the 2012 State of the Climate report released online today by the American Meteorological Society (AMS).
06/Aug » National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association

Offshore oil drillers quietly frack off Calif. Coast

While the heated debate over hydraulic fracturing rages onshore in California, energy companies drilling for oil off the coast have used fracking on at least a dozen occasions. Now regulators are taking a closer look at companies such as Venoco Inc. and Chevron Corp. that have fracked offshore wells, as state officials question whether the controversial drilling technique should be allowed in sensitive coastal waters. 
06/Aug » E&E News EnergyWire

Californians surveyed on climate change, fracking, hybrid cars

People in other states may be chanting "drill, baby, drill" -- but not Californians. A new poll shows that a majority of Golden State residents oppose both new offshore oil drilling and expanding hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, to produce oil and gas. Californians also overwhelmingly support programs to expand renewable energy such as solar and wind power. 
01/Aug » San Jose Mercury News

A Republican Case for Climate Action

EACH of us took turns over the past 43 years running the Environmental Protection Agency. We served Republican presidents, but we have a message that transcends political affiliation: the United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally.
01/Aug » The New York Times

U.S. to start first California study of fracking

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management reported Friday that it will launch California's first statewide study of fracking and its possible hazards, a key goal of environmentalists opposed to the drilling practice.
03/Aug » The San Francisco Chronicle

America is being left behind by energy innovators

I would like to ask Congress to give a forward-thinking energy policy a chance. It is time for Republicans and Democrats to work together and create a common vision for our future. The US is the greatest country in the world because we always have had vision – we have always known where we were going. This is no different. If they were to visit Algiers or Brussels – cities with leaders at opposite ends of the oil market but with a common vision – they would see this is not about hugging trees. It is about jobs, health and national security.
06/Aug » The Financial Times

Join the Conversation