Business / Economy

COMMENTARY: What About The Frackin’ Jobs?

Does the oil drilling industry really bring economic development to our county?

    The rallying cry from Big Oil and its latest boom, including hydraulic fracturing and other enhanced drilling processes, is that they will create JOBS! The big economic motivator to allow them to drill, and at the current rate that is something like 14,000 to 18,000 new wells each year nationally. This is why Governor Brown is so much a pro-fracking proponent, as the drilling industry has managed to inject this as a "linchpin" into gubernatorial races in many states. Plus, he has pocketed some $2 million in donations from this industry. When this was sold in Pennsylvania, the state saw a rise of only 1.3 percent in total employment. But remember, this is a "boom" and it won't last forever, as drilling companies are well known for moving around once an area is depleted of resources.  
    First, let's look at an overview of the processes currently being used by Citadel Oil, Inc. in San Benito County and the State of California, as they like to claim that they are NOT "fracking."  Currently, there are about 20 active wells in south San Benito County, some of which are Citadel's and other belong to other companies, such as Patriot Oil, Inc. There are also more than 300 oil and gas wells which are inactive, but could be re-stimulated. It is estimated that up to 80 percent of new well stimulation in the Monterey Shale uses some form of strong acid. However, detailed data about the use of acid is lacking as the practice was only regulated beginning in January 2014. The use of acid is still exempt if used in concentrations under 7 percent." Citadel Oil, Inc. claims they are using methods that have been around since the 1950s, such as cyclic steam injection and acidization. These techniques are described below.
      According to California Frack Facts (CFF), "like traditional fracking, acidization uses water, sand and a variety of chemicals including gels, proppants, and high concentrations of hydrochloric or hydrofluoric acid. Hydrofluoric acid is one of the most dangerous industrial chemicals currently in commercial use and if spilled in transit may create a cloud of gas that can cause severe burns and respiratory problems.  Despite this, hydrofluoric acid has been used at concentrations of up to 30 percent in California, according to industry sources."
    CFF goes on to explain, "Matrix Acidization is a technique which uses high volumes of corrosive acid and chemicals to access oil and gas trapped beneath the earth. Acidization is being used in Kern County, as well as in wells located in urban areas. It is estimated that up to 80 percent of new well stimulation in the Monterey Shale uses some form of strong acid. However, detailed data about the use of acid is lacking." Acid Fracking is a technique which merges hydraulic fracking and matrix acidization. While fracking uses high pressure to break through fractures in the earth and acidization uses acid to dissolve rocks, acid fracking does both. Hydraulic fracturing and acid fracking are similar in that they both use large volumes of water and chemicals, produce large volumes of wastewater, and permanently change the underground geology of California. CFF describes, "Steam Injection is often used in conjunction with fracking to stimulate large oil reservoirs by injecting steam into multiple drill holes. The amount of water used during steam injection can be reduced through a process known as cyclic injection, where steam and chemical additives are applied to a single well and left to soak in the shale for several days."
    All of these methods must use a cement casing to line their drilled well holes.  Scientific studies, sponsored by the oil companies themselves, have proven that just like there is no "safe cigarette,"  there is no "safe drilling."  All well casings fail or will fail in the future, that is guaranteed.  New well casings fail at a 6 percent rate.  After they have been there 30 years they fail at a 50 percent rate.  No casing is any good unless it can last forever, which the oil industry has proven can't be done. So, are we willing to allow an industry, just like Big Tobacco, to lie about its safety?  
    Now, let's look at job stimulation, with the rallying cry of economic boom from fracking, promising the rebirth of the American energy Industry.  All this is in an effort to keep the U.S. from being a victim of OPEC pricing, which certainly could be done by changing the model. The U.S. expects to see 18,000 new wells drilled each year. All of this will mean a huge increase in piping, application of silica sand, water and chemicals that have to trucked into the area.  So, who is paying for the wear and tear on our county roads for this use?  Who will clean up contaminated land and water, once it is decimated and polluted?  Who will filter the air from not only dust and debris, but harmful gases that always escape from the wells?  Who suffers from lowered property values, due to drilling in the area?  Add to this the reluctance of insurers to insure homes near drilling sites and lenders who will not lend if drilling is involved, the public does not stand to profit from this business. And let's consider all the "accidents" that happen.  Pipeline leaks, well blowouts, train wrecks, waste water leakage, we've even seen raw crude oil flowing down city streets in Arkansas.  Then there are the ever occurring earthquake issues, happening in Texas, Oklahoma and elsewhere, all directly related to "fracking."  We are risking our own "Fukishima" scenario off the coast of California.  You can bet the oil companies won't be paying for any of this.
    According to Dean Baker, an economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington D.C., the economy and revenues are also expanding in southern Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Wyoming. 36,000 jobs have been added nationally in the last two years in the oil and gas extraction industry, most of those in natural gas fracking.  However, those jobs could move elsewhere and frequently they do just that, as the drilling company's direct labor force is experienced people imported into an area, rather than using locals.  Joan Gralla of Reuters points out in May 2014, that in "Pennsylvania, northwestern Louisiana and gas-rich areas around the Gulf of Mexico are losing jobs and revenue as the fracking industry shrinks after a price collapse…"  Part of this is now due to an oversupply of natural gas as well as drillers moving to other areas, along with their laborers. Baker goes on to say that an estimated number of jobs lost in this region could reach 72,000 – or double the jobs added during the fracking boom.  This assessment assumes that each fracking job created one more job in related areas, such as trucking and steel manufacturing, including other sectors, such as hotels, shops and other places for workers to spend their wages.  A decline in gas rigs dropping has meant an increase in oil rigs, which have moved to other places such as Texas and North Dakota.  Add to this lost payments to landowners, who have leased their land to drilling companies and a drop in sales taxes, due to workers moving.  
    It is true that "unconventional" shale oil and gas fracking has meant a job boom even in states that don't actually have shale deposits.  But the truth is most of these industry jobs are not filled by local residents.  The "boom town" effect, including an escalating cost of living and social problems have been documented where an extraction industry rapidly arises. So, who pays for the extra law enforcement and support services needed to address the added social difficulties?
    Kari Lydersen of the Midwestern Energy News, states that though a study commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's 21st Century Energy Institute claims that there is a "job boom even in states that don't actually have shale deposits…", they don't account for the many documented environmental problems and copious water use, or impacts on other industries, such as San Benito's agriculture and cattle raising economies and our quality of life.  We also are in a drought situation, that does not look like it is going to improve soon, along with the potential seismic activity of many of California's known faults running through this area.  
    If one is going to do a really serious study, one would look at measuring the jobs that the oil and gas drilling industry creates, against the impacts on other local industries. If what little water we have is contaminated, what are we going to drink or water our crops with?  If we have parks where people go for peace and quiet, what happens when we allow it to be turned into an industrial landscape?  Who pays to clean up the messes that are eventually left behind.  Some of these messes are not reversible.
    A tool we should hold our elected official responsible for using is the IMPLAN model, a widely used tool originally developed for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This tool studies, quantifies and predicts direct and indirect induced jobs. Direct jobs include construction, oil and gas extraction, metal fabrication, truck transport, manufacture of chemicals, equipment and electronics for the drilling industry and mining of frack sand.  Indirect jobs include financial and administrative services, real estate, workers spending their wages on health care, amusement, food, beverage and general merchandise.  The IMPLAN model or similar tools, can also be used to study job creation by renewable energy companies, to predict the numbers of direct and indirect induced jobs they create.
    In the end, we need to study the histories of what happens where there is any sort of resource "boom" or "rush," which lead to short-term investment and once the resource is gone, the company has no interest in the area.  The rural life, the clear air and water, seeing the stars at night are all diminished by a "fracking boom." Those industries that are created on the basis of their "environmental purity," such as grass-fed beef and organic farming may face the challenges of maintaining their products' integrities if there is a "fracking boom" allowed in San Benito County.  All it takes is a public perception of contamination, whether it exists or not, to economically destroy these markets.  The bottom line is we should all be able to decide if we want this in our county or not. This is the basis of FREEDOM "of the people, by the people and for the people." 

Vote yes on Proposition H this November.  ProtectSan Benito, Our Water, Our Health, Our Future!  Join the Coalition to Protect San Benito at protectsanbenito.org.

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Darlene Boyd