Hydraulic Fracturing Threatens San Juan Capistrano: Local Response Needed

 “Water. So precious. We scan the cosmos looking for any possibility of it elsewhere, because as they say, where there is water, there is almost sure to be life.  And yet, we as a species treat this rare precious life giving and life-sustaining gift with the same vile contempt with which we treat the rest of our World and  each other. We kill it to satisfy our greed.”                                                 –Author unknown

San Juan Capistrano obtains its water from three sources: The state water project, Colorado river, and groundwater.  These resources have become overly stressed due to climate change, population growth (San Juan Capistrano’s population grew from 1,120 in 1960 to over 35,000 in 2012,) the advent of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) and the water management challenges created by fracking.  

There is controversy as to the expense and necessity of San Juan Capistrano’s Ground Water Recovery Plant (GWRP.)  Prior to its construction, San Juan received 91-percent of its water from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), supplemented by 6-percent from local potable wells and three-percent from local non-potable wells.  

Today 43-percent of our ground water is provided by the GWRP, while 53-percent  is obtained from the MWD.  Three-percent is provided from local non-potable wells along with less than one-percent recycled from the Moultan Niguel Water District.  

In the near future it is planned that non-potable wells will provide five-percent, with an additional 10-percent of recycled water being provided by the Moultan Niguel Water District and Santa Margarita Water District).  

Running the rivers and Delta dry

With our water in short supply, it is definitely not the time to expand hydraulic fracturing in California.  One only has to look at Texas, where the combination of extended drought and over-pumping of the aquifers  through hydraulic fracturing has left as many as 30 towns in Texas on the brink of running out of water Barnhart, Texas, is no longer able to supply water to its citizens.  At all.  

Few states have been hit harder than Texas and Oklahoma. The U.S. Drought Monitor is a program produced in partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  It identifies five categories of drought, ranging from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought.” 

In 2011, the area of Texas under exceptional drought grew from 10- to 95-percent.  Oklahoma experienced exceptional drought over 69-percent of the state.   

The governors of Texas and Oklahoma decreed that members of every faith pray for God to save them from the drought.  God has not been persuaded by their prayers.  The drought spread westward across New Mexico into Arizona, as well as eastward across the south into the Carolinas.  

California is not far behind. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that we are suffering extreme drought in the central part of the state.  “Extreme drought” is the Drought Monitor’s fourth most severe category, just under “exceptional drought.” Lake Mead lost 10 feet a year over the past decade, and water levels at Lake Mead are expected to drop up to 25 feet in 2014.  Scientists at Scripps Institute of Oceanography believe there is a 10-percent chance that Lake Mead could turned into a dry lake by the end of 2014.  

Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)

In March of 2012, Michael J. Mishak, writing for the Los Angeles Times,  reported that the “oil extraction method [hydraulic fracturing] is being widely used in California with little oversight” and that “regulators and lawmakers know very little about how and where oil companies employ hydraulic fracturing in the state.” 

Kyle Ferrar, writing for the FracTracker Alliance, reported in August 2013, that “[a]lthough hydraulic fracturing has been conducted in California for over a decade, it [has] not [been] monitored or regulated, and the majority of Californians were not aware of it.”  

The major problem with hydraulic fracturing is the great amount of water required to flack a well.  As Claire Gordon, reporting for Aljazeera America this past October 2013, points out “Conventional drilling involved around 100,000 gallons per drill; the new drilling method requires 3 to 8 million gallons per frack.” This is placing enormous stress on our state’s water supply.  Couple this with the risk of contamination of our water supply from leftover fracking water that can migrate into nearby aquifers and you have the recipe for a major catastrophe.  

Jeremy Miller, writing in the January/February 2011 edition of Orion magazine states "At the height of California oil production in 1985, oil companies in Kern County pumped 1.1 billion barrels of water underground to extract 256 million barrels of oil—a ratio of roughly four and a half barrels of water for every barrel of oil . . . In 2008, Kern county producers injected nearly 1.3 billion barrels of water to extract 162 million barrels of oil—a ratio of nearly eight barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced."  

Our water is precious, we can’t live without it, yet as Dan Aiello points out in an earlier article, published in December 2012,  “As with the damage to land, there also appears to be no debate about the amount of California drinking water that is turned toxic in order to produce oil with the fracking extraction process.  A cumulative 2.8 trillion gallons of water is said to have been used for fracking in California to date, water taken primarily from the endangered Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta estuary (now under threat of another peripheral canal proposal to drain seven million acre feet of water that could wipe out several species of Northern California fish native to the largest estuary on the Pacific Coast).”  Conveyed south via the state's taxpayer-funded aqueduct, it is being syphoned off for fracking by tax-exempt oil producers in Kern county where it is processed into highly toxic waste or produced water.  Aiello states that “[t]his industrial use of water was never envisioned or allotted for by the State’s Department of Water Resources or the State Water Project.”  

Dan Aiello, writing for the Examiner, points out in his February 2013 article, “[t]here’s a new water interest bidding for California’s limited water supplies, and the managers of California’s historic agriculture- centric water districts in the Central Valley aren’t smiling.  In other words, we witnessing  the beginnings of a major water war.  

With a finite supply of water, Sacramento may have to choose between expanding food production or fracking wells and oil and natural gas production. Either option will likely lead to increases in food or energy costs for consumers.”  

Contaminated ‘produce’ water  

If you saw the film “Erin Brockovich,” you might remember that it was ground water contamination that occurred at Hinkley, California. “Between 1952 and 1966, the water used in the PG&E cooling towers contained hexavalent chromium – now recognized as a carcinogen – to prevent rust in the machinery. The water was stored between uses in unlined ponds, which allowed it to percolate into the groundwater. This severely contaminated the groundwater, affecting soil and contaminating water wells near the compressor station, produced a contaminated plume approximately 2 miles long and nearly 1 mile wide. A 2012 Cal/EPA report indicated that chromium 6 – a cancer-causing chemical – had started to migrate into the lower aquifer.  By 2013 the plume had expanded to seven-miles in length by 2.5 miles in width, endangering literally thousands of people.   

With hydraulic fracturing we are pumping millions of gallons of water mixed with some 582 different chemicals, many of which are carcinogens, which were exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act amendments of 2005 – the so-called Haliburton Exemption.  Twenty- to 25-percent of this mix is unrecoverable and given the nature of the shale after fracking it can – and does – migrate; just like the chromium six discussed above. What happens when it gets into our aquifers and contaminates our drinking water as has happened in numerous other states, such as Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and Colorado.  

Aiello pointed out in his above-referenced article that “Aera executives chose to ignore state regulations for lined ponds to hold the ‘produced’ wastewater, much as Pacific Gas and Electric’s decision in the movie Erin Brockavitch in Hinckley and Kettleman City.

While the industry is regulated by the state and Governor Jerry Brown has proposed new regulations, the state, without a severance tax on removal of its finite oil reserves, does not have the funds to hire adequate numbers of field inspectors for an industry known to have an arrogant disregard for environmental concerns.”  

And then there is the question of earthquakes  

And what happens when one of these frackings triggers an earthquake. “A single fracking of a wastewater well triggered 167 earthquakes in and around Youngstown, Ohio, during a single year of operation. That’s according to a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research by Won-Young Kim, a researcher at Columbia University. Earthquakes had never been recorded at Youngstown before 2010. Then, at the end of that year, frackers started pumping their waste from Marcellus Shale drilling projects into the 9,200-foot deep Northstar 1 injection well. Within two weeks, the area had experienced its first quake.”   “Recent earthquakes that rattled the Cogdell oil field in northern Texas were triggered by gas-injection wells meant to boost oil production, a study finds.

People living in Snyder, Texas and other towns near the Cogdell drilling sites recall a similar earthquake swarm that shook homes between 1974 and 1982, which has been linked to fracking.  Several earthquakes from both the recent and 1970s swarms hit in about the same place, probably along preexisting fault lines hidden underground, said study authors Wei Gan and Cliff Frohlich of the University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics. The quakes clustered along several northeast-southwest lines, which might indicate the presence of previously unidentified faults, they said. The findings were published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Gan and Frohlich analyzed 93 earthquakes stronger than magnitude 1.5 that hit the Cogdell area between March 2009 and December 2010. Three temblors were more intense than magnitude 3, and the strongest — a magnitude 4.4 — struck in September 2011. Information about the amount of oil, gas and water injected and extracted at Texas wells is publicly available, and the researchers compared the data with earthquake records, and found there were more earthquakes when the amount of gas injected increased. The oil companies were primarily injecting carbon dioxide (CO2) gas into the ground.”  

And then there is California + Fracking = The Big One?  As Rachel Samuels points out in her article – “As fracking increases across California and more and more wastewater is injected, faults can reach a tipping point – as scientists discovered in Youngstown, Ohio, which experienced 167 earthquakes linked to fracking.

“Once faults are under enough pressure, earthquakes half a world away can also remotely trigger swarms of quakes around injection sites. According to a recent report by scientists at Columbia University, this already has occurred at injection well sites in Oklahoma, Colorado, and Texas.”  

Samuels closed her article with an admonishment -- “We cannot afford to waste our water on hydraulic fracturing.  Inducing earthquakes is NOT something you want to mess with here. we surely cannot risk setting off a major earthquake.”  

A statewide ban on fracking should be a no brainer. Every town in California should be passing resolutions demanding “NO FRACKING WITHIN THE CITY LIMITS OF __________________ OR ITS ADJOINING WATERS”, thus sending a clear message to Sacramento that fracking will not be tolerated in California.  

Governor Brown considers hydraulic fracturing a means to resolve our ongoing financial problems here in California, but given the potential risks for an environmental disaster – whether it is contamination of our last remaining fossil or existing groundwater aquifers, or the physical destruction of a city with subsequent loss of life via an earthquake – banning hydraulic fracturing throughout the state seems a reasonable and sane decision.   

We can make a difference.  According to MoveOn.org “The Dallas City Council voted 9-6 to ban fracking within their cityErie County, New York banned fracking on county lands with a 9-2 vote, and last month voters in three Colorado towns voted to ban fracking.”

Reuters reports than “An environmental committee at Massachusetts Statehouse has approved a bill, imposing a 10-year ban on fracking for natural gas. The move comes as a wave of earthquakes in Texas has raised new concerns over the controversial drilling technique.”

A few years ago our City Council made the bold move to build a groundwater recovery plant.  I believe that despite the protests of the so-called “Common Sense” group, we will within the next decade find ourselves eternally grateful to those on the City Council who voted to build San Juan Capistrano's GWRP. 

What we need today is for the City Council to make the bold move to ban hydraulic fracking within the City limits and in the adjoining ocean waters.  If they do, they will set an example for other cities to follow. 

If you care about the future of San Juan Capistrano, ask your council representatives to pass the following:

"The people of San Juan Capistrano, California, have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. San Juan Capistrano’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the City of San Juan Capistrano conserves and maintains them for the benefit of all the people. There, it is resolved that the technology known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) used to recover oil and gas from shale formation, including the use of injection wells for the storage of fracking waste water and fluids, are permanently banned within the city limits of San Juan Capistrano and its adjoining ocean."

If you live in a city other than San Juan Capistrano, substitute your city's name for San Juan Capistrano, and ask your own city council to adopt the resolution.

Additional reading:   Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2013 - Hormone-disrupting chemicals found in water at fracking sites  

Climate Progress, December 17, 2013 - Chemicals Found In Water At Fracking Sites Linked To Infertility, Cancer  

Endocrinology December 16, 2013 - Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region  

National Academy of Science (2013) - Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies    

Mark Tabbert December 17, 2013 at 10:35 PM
Wow! Quite impressive the work that must have gone into this post. Fracking for oil and gas we can't afford to burn makes no sense and the fact that it is such a hazard to begin is more evidence that we are at war with nature, an all out armed offense. We have an economy that says it is better to destroy the Earth than to nurture, renew, restore and sustain it. We can either take assets from the future or protect assets for the future; one is exploitation and the other is restoration. The UN's IPCC report has made clear that we have 3 to 4 times more known fossil fuel reserves than we can afford to burn if we hope to stay below the 2 degree temperature rise they say is safe. And these reserves don't include fracked energy or tar sands. The World Bank says we're headed towards 4-5 degrees which is an unmitigated disaster. The Pentagon and the CIA call climate change the greatest threat to national security we face and in response we frack. We are blind to the real world.
Smokey Bear December 30, 2013 at 04:35 PM
I did not think that fracking in CA, let alone, Orange County, had been given the green light. But they have been 'testing' for wells for years. Where can I find the data on what they have been doing? I know I stepped in some hard sticky oil when I was walking at the beach several times in the past 5 yrs. I alerted the lifeguard & they said it is 'natural' to have oil come up from the ocean floor by itself. Fracking is so bad for the environment & they are lying to us about the activity going on right here offshore in Capo Beach. Where can I find truth about it? How can we stop it!
Joanna Clark December 31, 2013 at 02:58 PM
Hi Smokey Bear, You will find numerous links in the OP-ED. The problem isn't that they are fracking here yet. The problem is the amount of water being diverted for fracking and the potential for contamination of the aquifers, which can migrate. Sacramento is giving a virtually green light to fracking, and the only way to combat it is to get every city to ban it within their city limits, thus sending a clear message to Sacramento that clean drinking water is more important than oil or gas. I've included the proposed resolution. Please consider sending it to San Juan's city council, and if you live in a neighboring city, then submit it to your own city council.
Smokey Bear January 03, 2014 at 04:34 PM
Thanks Joanna, that is smart; to go for the water issue which is already a big mess to prove our point & hopefully shut it down. I think they have been testing areas, have they not? I will sign all the petitions I can find as my person name, because Smokey Bear isn't exactly registered to vote in people land : (
Joanna Clark January 03, 2014 at 09:25 PM
Hi Smokey Bear: There is a MoveOn.org petition at http://sanjuancapistrano.patch.com/groups/announcements/p/banning-hydraulic-fracturing-throughout-california-a-local-response-needed_75aad5d7 Thank you for your support.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »