Will California be where the fracking boom went to die?


They struck oil early Thursday in Southern California. OK, that’s not really accurate: What really happened is that oil struck the streets of the Los Angeles suburb of Glenside, thanks to a massive pipeline accident:

The Los Angeles Fire Department says a ruptured oil pipe near the suburb of Glendale has spilled about 50,000 gallons of crude oil onto streets.

According to the Fire Department, the leak from a 20-inch pipe was reported at about 12:15 a.m. Thursday in Atwater Village and the oil line was remotely shut off. No injuries were reported.

Oil spilled over approximately half a mile and is knee-high in some areas. Firefighters and hazardous materials crews are on the scene. A handful of commercial businesses are affected, including a strip club that was evacuated.

Other news accounts say that two people were taken to the hospital after exposure to the spilled oil. Right now it’s still early, so there are more questions than answers about the source of the oil or exactly how the spill happened. As I’ve written in the past, especially after the massive spill that decimated a subdivision in Mayflower, Ark., America is doing a terrible job maintaining and inspecting its massive inventory of pipeline — and this seems like another example.

But perhaps it’s also something of a metaphor that this assault of crude oil is taking place on the streets of greater Los Angeles, because one has to wonder if Southern California is where America’s unslakable thirst for fossil fuels has gone to die. California is our most populous state, by far, and one of the most environmentally sensitive, and it is also teeming with natural resources, including oil and natural gas. Eventually, something is going to have to give.

I’ve already written about the increasing hard evidence that fracking — specifically, the technique of disposing of wastewater in deep injection wells — is linked to earthquakes in once geologically stable regions like Oklahoma and even Ohio. California is several years behind those states in the fracking boom, but now that it’s arrived in the fault-heavy, earthquake-prone Los Angeles region, one shudders to think of the consequences. But ironically, that may not be the issue that kills the newest “gold rush” in Southern California.

Right now, the real problem is water:

Fracking a single oil well in California last year took 87 percent of the water consumed in a year by a family of four, according to the Western States Petroleum Association, an industry lobbying group. That amount — a modest one by national standards, the oil industry argues — has become an increasingly delicate topic since a drought was officially declared early this year in the state.

The drought, combined with a recent set of powerful earthquakes, has provided the momentum for about a dozen local governments across California, the third-largest oil producing state, to vote to restrict or prohibit fracking in their jurisdictions, as concerns over environmental effects and water usage have grown.

At the same time, a bill that would declare a statewide moratorium on fracking has been gathering support in the State Senate, a year after a similar effort failed.

“There will be a statewide moratorium, whether it comes this year, next year or the year after that,” said Kathryn Phillips, the director of Sierra Club California, a leading opponent of fracking. “Even if we don’t get a moratorium, just the threat of a moratorium discourages investment.”

If California were to impose a moritorium on fracking, the state would join Vermont — which has an outright ban on the practice — and a couple of larger states including New York that have placed a hold on the controversial process. More importantly, I think it would be a real momentum changer. The insanity of drilling in an earthquake-prone, drought-parched state such as California should make folks stand up and realize there are smarter ways to get energy. Look at the success that European nations such as Germany have had in switching much of their power generation to renewables. In a time of global warning, how smart would it be to stop hijacking California’s limited water supplies, and tap into its abundant sunshine?

Read more about Thursday’s oil spill in Glendale, California: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/15/los-angeles-oil-spill_n_5329052.html

Check out my March 19 blog post on fracking and earthquake activity in Southern California: https://www.stuarthsmith.com/is-fracking-causing-earthquakes-in-southern-california/

Here’s the New York Times on drought and the possibility of a fracking moritorium in Southern California: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/15/us/californias-thirst-shapes-debate-over-fracking.html?hpw&rref=science&_r=0

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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