GOP to California Governor: Don’t Spoil Fracking Potential

Kevin McCarthy speaks at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) election watch party at the Washington Hyatt on Tuesday, November 2, 2010.
©2010 Richard A. Bloom
Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Oct. 17, 2013, 1:51 p.m.

House Re­pub­lic­ans hail­ing from Cali­for­nia, led by Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy, are send­ing a pree­mpt­ive warn­ing to Demo­crat­ic Gov. Jerry Brown to en­sure that a law he signed last month doesn’t get in the way of the Golden State’s po­ten­tial to re­vive its oil in­dustry.

The new state law sets the wheels in mo­tion for Brown’s ad­min­is­tra­tion to reg­u­late ad­vanced drilling tech­no­lo­gies, in­clud­ing hy­draul­ic frac­tur­ing, which has been key to de­vel­op­ing oil and nat­ur­al-gas re­sources trapped in deep rock form­a­tions — but is con­tro­ver­sial for its en­vir­on­ment­al risks, in­clud­ing wa­ter con­tam­in­a­tion.

“Any hy­draul­ic frac­tur­ing reg­u­la­tions must not end up be­ing a solu­tion in search of a prob­lem,” Mc­Carthy and more than a dozen oth­er Cali­for­nia Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Chair­man Dar­rell Issa, wrote in a let­ter to Brown dated Thursday.

Cali­for­nia has long been a top oil-pro­du­cing state — par­tic­u­larly in Mc­Carthy’s dis­trict around Bakersfield — but its pro­duc­tion has de­clined over the last few dec­ades. The GOP law­makers say in their let­ter that with the oil re­sources of the Monterey Shale form­a­tion, which spans much of the San Joa­quin Val­ley, “Cali­for­nia is lit­er­ally sit­ting on top of a sea of Black Gold that could put our en­ergy sup­ply and eco­nom­ic prosper­ity in our own hands, not the hands of for­eign na­tions.”

They point to a 2011 re­port by the fed­er­al En­ergy In­form­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion that found the Monterey form­a­tion to be the largest shale-oil form­a­tion in the United States. It’s es­tim­ated to hold 15.4 bil­lion bar­rels of oil, or 65 per­cent of the total shale oil re­sources in the United States. That’s al­most four times as much as what EIA es­tim­ates is un­der­ground in West­ern North Dakota, where oil pro­duc­tion over the last sev­er­al years has cata­pul­ted the state to second place be­hind Texas in pet­ro­leum out­put.

“It is ab­so­lutely im­per­at­ive that the new per­mit­ting pro­gram take in­to ac­count the real­it­ies of how the oil and nat­ur­al gas in­dustry con­ducts their budget­ing and plan­ning ef­forts, schedul­ing of drilling rigs, and oth­er routine daily activ­it­ies,” the Re­pub­lic­ans wrote. “Un­less the newly cre­ated pro­gram re­flects these real­it­ies, we are con­cerned that en­ergy pro­duc­tion in our state will be severely cur­tailed.”

Mark Necho­dom, who as the state’s De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion dir­ect­or is Brown’s top oil and nat­ur­al-gas reg­u­lat­or, told Na­tion­al Journ­al in an in­ter­view last week that frack­ing has been used act­ively in Cali­for­nia for 40 years. “And in Cali­for­nia there has not been one re­cord of re­por­ted dam­age dir­ectly to the use of hy­draul­ic frac­tur­ing,” Necho­dom said.

Still, en­vir­on­ment­al­ists and res­id­ents around the state are con­cerned about the en­vir­on­ment­al risks as­so­ci­ated with frack­ing, in­clud­ing wa­ter con­tam­in­a­tion, and the po­ten­tial for com­pan­ies to em­ploy the tech­no­logy more to ac­cess pre­vi­ously un­tapped re­serves. Since frack­ing has not been of­fi­cially reg­u­lated, Necho­dom con­cedes his de­part­ment doesn’t have an ac­cur­ate pic­ture of how pre­val­ent frack­ing is throughout the state.

Necho­dom ref­er­enced the na­tion­al de­bate over frack­ing, centered in places like Pennsylvania and Col­or­ado, as a ma­jor reas­on why his de­part­ment is tak­ing a closer look.

“Giv­en the great na­tion­wide wave of con­cern, we at the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion are treat­ing this as an op­por­tun­ity to again em­brace pub­lic de­mand for know­ledge and trans­par­ency,” Necho­dom said. “This is an op­por­tun­ity for people to learn where their oil comes from, just the same way we want to teach people where their milk and wa­ter come from.”

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