Fracking Battle Heats Up, Yosemite is Hot Enough
VIDEO OF THE DAY
Over 4,000 firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire, the 11th-largest wildfire in California history. Located on the slopes of the Western Sierra Nevada, the fire, after pushing east, has entered Yosemite National Park. It now covers more ground than the city of Chicago, and state and federal fire officials estimate it’s burned more than 184,481 acres. In addition to the rugged, hard to reach terrain, dry tinder created by years of drought is supplying the fuel that feeds the fire – causing the creation of ‘crown fire,’ a phenomena that spreads fire by burning the tops of trees.
Described as a battle of ‘fire vs. water,’ the Rim seriously threatens the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Hetch Hechy sits 170 miles east of San Francisco and provides power and water to about 2.6 million people. In a rare move, Gov. Brown has declared a state of emergency for San Francisco because of the threat the fire poses to the city’s utilities. The Christian Science Monitor explains why the rise in wildfires presents a broad threat to the Nation’s energy infrastructure.
In 2013, 33,000 wildfires in the Western U.S. scorched 5,300 square miles. Eight weeks into the fiscal year, California has spent roughly one-quarter of all the funds allocated for the entire fire season. After spending $967 million, the U.S. Forest Service’s budget also is depleted from combatting wildfires, even while sequester cuts slashed the agency’s budget automatically by $115 million. Experts contend Western wildfires, like the Rim Fire, will keep multiplying due to global warming and the escalating number of people living in fire-prone areas. For a methodical analysis of the data on California’s drought and how it contributed to igniting the Rim Fire, Climate Central offers unparalleled research.
Timing is everything. Fracking is a red-hot topic.
In California, SB 4, Sen. Fran Pavley’s bill requiring oil and gas companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used during the fracking process is brewing a ‘Coca-Cola’ battle over trade secret protection. After stealthily advancing and surviving in the Senate, the bill, assisted by the publication of two reports, has commanded a burst of attention. The first report, exposing undisclosed fracking activity in the Santa Barbara Channel, took most Californians by surprise. The second, from Next Generation, addressing the preferred use of acidizing to extract the oil deposits in the Monterey Shale, has the natives, the environmental community and the State Legislature on red alert.
In an official public comment letter to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), 14 California legislators urged significant improvements to the bureau’s draft regulations released in May. In the letter, the lawmakers specifically urged the BLM to regulate acidizing on the 47 million acres of federal land the BLM monitors in California. For a list of the 14 legislators, look here. Some believe this uproar could tip the regulatory balance on fracking against oil companies in California and further empower the California Coastal Commission to levy fines without going through the courts.
Nationally, the Wall Street Journal reports President Obama walks a ‘fracking tightrope’ – navigating between industry groups opposing any federal regulation and green groups that favor banning the practice entirely. An offshoot of the U.S. Chamber of Congress, the Institute for 21st Century Energy, contends the BLM’s revised rules on fracking will raise the cost of drilling by as much as $96,000 per well. A new report addresses the health effects of fracking for natural gas. The results do little to calm the fracking debate. Despite the small scale of the study, air pollution from fracking appears to pose the greatest health risk. During his first policy speech at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy, DOE Secretary Moniz addressed fracking while outlining the President’s ‘All of the Above’ energy agenda. A synopsis of his speech can be found here. A video of the entire speech can be found here here.
Back in California, PG&E is embroiled in a spate of controversies that won’t do much to restore its tarnished image. In a landscape dotted with conflicting state and federal policies on renewable fuels, read how CARB battles to shore-up California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. It’s estimated that the fine and ultrafine particulate matter from traffic air pollution kills 80,000 to 100,000 Americans per year. Next year, the EPA will install air quality monitors in Southern California to prove a link exists between traffic air pollution and respiratory illnesses. Finally, while the current year’s carbon allowances sold for less than expected, a well thought-out essay on the durability of California’s cap-and-trade program is found here. Hint – it’s all about the sale of 9.5 million allowances for 2016.
QUOTES OF THE DAY
"We need Mother Nature to cooperate.” Cal Fire Captain Mike Mohler on the difficulty battling the Rim/Yosemite Fire.
“This fire has continued to pose every challenge that there can be on a fire.” Daniel Berlant, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on the Rim/Yosemite Fire.
“… it’s like Drano for Big Oil.” Brian Merchant describing how acidizing is commonly used by oil companies.
"… with over 15 million acres of BLM land in California, much of it covering the Monterey Shale, we need the strongest possible protections from all forms of oil and gas production, including acidizing.” Andrew Grinberg, California oil and gas program coordinator for Clean Water Action.
“There is now conviction that this program will be here for a while.” The reaction of Lenny Hochschild, managing director at Evolution Markets, after future contracts for a record 1.83 million 2016 carbon allowances under California’s cap-and-trade program sold out – marking the first time that demand for advance permits exceeded supply since the state began capping emissions.
“Yes.” DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz’s answer to a question posed to him about whether the use of natural gas as a ‘bridge fuel’ was a problem or a solution.
WHAT’S BEHIND THE NATURAL GAS BOOM? The Atlantic. August 23, 2013.
WHEN WILL SOLAR GET CHEAP? The Atlantic. August 19, 2013.
CHART OF THE DAY
ACRES BURNED BY U.S. WILDFIRES 1985-2012 SOURCE: U.S. DEPARTMENTS OF INTERIOR AND AGRICULTURE. Printed in the Washington Post, August 23, 2013.