Marty Richman.jpg

Whether you’re investing your hard-earned cash, changing medication, or thinking about banning oil and gas recovery in San Benito County, I always have the same advice; read the fine print and do not panic.  The fine print may be small, but you can bet the content is important and it’s important to focus on facts in detail.  I’m going to address three of the fine print items; the ban, the subsidies, and the inflated earthquake threat.

The fracking ban argument:  The first fine print item that you may not be aware of is that the proposed ban does not just apply to advanced methods of fossil fuel recovery, it also bans ALL drilling and recovery operations in areas zoned rural.  Therefore, this is certainly not only about fracking.  Did you know that?

The subsidy argument:  One of the general arguments about oil companies and fossil fuels is that they are often subsidized by the taxpayers.  It’s certainly true, but what does that have to do with the case?  All sorts of things are subsidized by the taxpayers including land ownership by some of the supporters of the ban – subsidized right out of the county budget, you neighbor says thanks. Renewable energy projects and R&D have also been heavily subsided by taxpayers – General Motors and their electric car, the Chevy Volt, for example.  Frankly, I do not like these subsidies and I do believe there should be a depletion tax on fossil fuels.  The subsidies hide the true cost of energy and penalize those who conserve; however, banning oil exploration and recovery in San Benito County or even the nation is not going to change the subsidy situation.  A nationwide ban might drive up the price of a gallon of gas to $10 or more and that is not going to be good for the economy.

The earthquake argument:  One of arguments used by ban supporters is that fracking for gas causes earthquakes and to prove it they cite a 2012 National Research Council report on the subject.  However, the devil is in the details and it is in this case in the report’s fine print and you probably do not have time to read it so I’ll tell you what it says thanks to an analysis by Scientific American, hardly an oil industry puppet.

Summary – “Although only a very small fraction of injection and extraction activities among the hundreds of thousands of energy development sites in the United States have induced seismicity at levels noticeable to the public, understanding the potential for inducing felt seismic events and for limiting their occurrence and impacts is desirable for state and federal agencies, industry, and the public at large.”  Can’t argue with that.

Analysis – “The number of earthquakes linked to fracking operations is very small, however; many more temblors are linked to conventional oil and natural gas extraction.” Furthermore, and this is interesting, “the greatest risk of earthquakes due to fracking does not come from drilling into deep shale or cracking it with pressurized water and chemicals. Rather, it comes from pumping the wastewater from those operations back down into deep sandstone or other formations for permanent disposal, instead of storing it in tanks or open ponds at the surface.”

“The report also links earthquakes to geothermal energy (tapping into hot underground reservoirs of steam or water) and so-called enhanced geothermal (forcing water into hot underground rock, to turn it to steam).”  My reaction – Oops, there goes another one of those renewable resources we hear so much about.

According to the same report, another idea that was supposed to save the world from climate change, “carbon sequestration,” has one of the largest imbalance potentials because it increases subsurface pressure across large areas, so there is a greater chance of running across a fault.  In other words, do not inject the wastewater or carbon into the ground for STORAGE.  Seems like a simple solution that stops far short of a ban.  The comprehensive state study will be out in 2015 and I expect it will say the same.  There is no reason to panic.

“The committee strongly recommends that energy companies work with the U.S. Department of Energy to establish such practices. It notes that best practices are important because all indications are that more and more underground extraction of energy will occur in the future.” 

Note that these scientists and well-known protectors of the environment did not recommend a radical solution like a ban, their recommendations are measured and reasonable, in my opinion the proposed ban is neither.

Marty Richman