Big Oil Spokesman Admits Water Use Will Rise With Expanded Fracking

By Dan Bacher |May 10, 214 | Oil and gas industry representatives constantly like to talk about the “small amounts” of water that ...

By Dan Bacher |May 10, 214 |

Oil and gas industry representatives constantly like to talk about the “small amounts” of water that the industry currently uses in fracking operations in Kern County and coastal areas of California. 

However, on April 28, Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and former press spokesman for the Westlands Water District, admitted in an interview on National Public Radio (NPR) what the anti-fracking community has known for a long time: Once they figure out how to make the Monterey Shale economically viable, the water usage will ramp up significantly. 

Here is a partial transcript of Lauren Sommer’s interview with Hull, courtesy of the Stop Fracking California State facebook page: 

TUPPER HULL: In California today, hydraulic fracturing uses very small amounts of water. 

SOMMER: Tupper Hull is with the Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry group. He points out, all together, fracking operations in California currently use the same amount of water each year as 650 homes do. 

HULL: It is not a lot of water in the big picture. Companies are looking very diligently at ways to reduce that number. 

SOMMER: But a drilling boom in the Monterey Shale could change that. Fracking there uses more water than anywhere else in the state, up to a million gallons per well. 

HULL: I think it's fair to say that if this technology that has proved so successful in other parts of the country can be as successful here, that we will see water consumption for hydraulic fracturing going up. 

Listen here

Yes, there is no doubt that “we will see water consumption for hydraulic fracturing going up” as the oil industry expands its fracking operations through the state’s land and coastal waters. 

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the controversial process of injecting millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals underground at high pressure in order to release and extract oil or gas. In California, the main target of fracking is the oil found in the Monterey Shale Formation. 

Nobody really knows how much water is used for fracking in California. Although corporate agribusiness remains the biggest user of state and federal water project water exported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the oil industry uses significant quantities of water that will only increase with the expansion of fracking. 

The oil industry’s allies in state government, like the industry representatives themselves, try to minimize the amount of water that is used for hydraulic fracturing operations. 

In a post on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) website on March 20, 2013, Richard Stapler, Deputy Secretary for Communications of the California Natural Resources Agency, claimed that only 8 acre feet of water is used every year for hydraulic fracturing in California. 

In a recent blog piece on the WSPA website entitled, “Oil Production and the Drought: We Get It," Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association and former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California, actually used a higher figure - "less than 300 acre feet of water" - for the amount of water used for fracking than Stapler did. 

“Hydraulic fracturing does not use large volumes of water, at least not in California,” Reheis-Boyd said. “All of the hydraulic fracturing that occurred last year used less than 300 acre feet of water, according to the California Department of Conservation. That’s about the same amount of water needed to keep two West Coast golf courses green." 

On the other hand, Adam Scow, California Campaigns Director for Food & Water Watch, revealed that Kern County, where 70 percent of California's oil reserves are located, used 150,000 acre feet of water in 2008 alone. This water is used for both steam injection and fracking operations. 

“When you consider that 8 barrels of water are used for every barrel of oil extracted, you could be getting into millions of acre feet used for fracking oil wells,” he noted. 

If 30,000 potential fracking sites were utilized, that could result in the consumption of an additional 450,000 acre feet of water, considering that each fracking operation uses 15 acre feet of water, said Barbara Barrigan–Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. 

She also noted that the industry has used four times the amount of water that it has claimed in Colorado and other states where fracking has been used to extract oil and natural gas. 

Although the amount specifically used in fracking operations is hard to pinpoint, one thing is for certain - oil companies use big quantities of water in their current oil drilling operations in Kern County. Much of this water comes through the State Water Project's California Aqueduct and the Central Valley Water Project's Delta-Mendota Canal, spurring increasing conflicts between local farmers and oil companies over available water when Californians continue to suffer from a historic drought 

"What's resoundingly clear, however, is that it takes more water than ever just to sustain Kern County's ebbing oil production," according to Jeremy Miller's 2011 investigative piece, "The Colonization of Kern County," in Orion Magazine. 

"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," according to Miller. "In 2008, Kern 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." 

Miller's investigation yielded some alarming data on how much water has been used by the oil industry in Kern County and statewide since the 1960s. 

"In the time since steamflooding was pioneered here in the fields of Kern County in the 1960s, oil companies statewide have pumped roughly 2.8 trillion gallons of fresh water—or, in the parlance of agriculture, nearly 9 million acre-feet—underground in pursuit of the region's tarry oil," said Miller. "Essentially, enough water has been injected into the oil fields here over the last forty years to create a lake one foot deep covering more than thirteen thousand square miles—nearly twice the surface area of Lake Ontario." 

Another thing that is very clear is that the expansion of fracking will cause massive contamination of groundwater and surface supplies in California. According to David Braun of Californians Against Fracking, the industry's own data indicated that 5 to 6% of the casings for fracked wells fail in the first year of operation - and 50 percent fail over a 30-year period. 

Fracking operations use numerous toxic chemicals, including methanol, benzene, naphthalene and trimethylbenzene, that imperil groundwater supplies, rivers and lakes. Increased water contamination resulting from fracking operations in the Central Valley is the last thing that collapsing populations of Central Valley salmon and steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt and other fish populations need. 

There is also no doubt that Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels would supply the water used to expand fracking in Kern County, as well as provide subsidized water to corporate agribusiness interests farming toxic, drainage-impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. 

On March 4, Restore the Delta and Food and Water Watch released a new map that shows that the 35-mile long twin tunnels would mainly supply water to the largest agribusiness users of Delta water exports, land impaired by toxic selenium concentrations that make farming unsustainable, and the oil and gas basins where the energy industry could expand fracking. 

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla noted that fracking is another “water intensive industry” in the San Joaquin Valley that will further contaminate groundwater supplies already impaired by selenium, nitrates, pesticides and other pollutants. 

“The governor's plan describes water for fracking via the proposed peripheral tunnels as a beneficial use,” she stated, referring to the BDCP website. “Beneficial for whom? The peripheral tunnels would benefit unsustainable corporate agribusiness in one region and potentially the energy industry – at the expense of everyday Californians.” 

“This map shows a remarkable overlay of where our water is going, how the public subsidizes unsustainable crops on drainage-impaired lands, selenium concentrations that pose a threat to the public, and underlying oil deposits that could be fracked with water from the governor’s tunnels," she said. “Unsustainable farming has damaged these lands. And the taxpayers have been subsidizing it.” 

Chook Chook Hillman, a member of the Karuk Tribe and the Klamath Justice Coalition, summed up the threat that fracking, massive water exports and the peripheral tunnels pose to salmon, other fish and people at a big rally against fracking attended by 4,000 people on March 14 at the State Capitol in Sacramento. 

“Brown is setting aside all the environmental rules in order to ship water south," said Hillman. “Fracking will take good water, put chemicals in it and then it will come out toxic forever. Fracking will affect all us - fracking is a terrible use of water, water that could be used for people and fish.”  

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