A dirty deal

A dirty deal

There’s money to be made, but not by people asked to live with fracking

By John Grula 05/21/2014

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The opponents of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have a long list of grave concerns about the risks to human and environmental health associated with this highly controversial oil and natural gas extraction method. It involves high-pressure injection of water mixed with sand and chemicals to free oil and gas trapped in non-porous rock formations deep underground.  

The hazards associated with fracking include huge amounts of water consumption and pollution (including sources of drinking water), air pollution, soil contamination, damage to natural habitats, increased truck traffic, increased release of greenhouse gases, increased risk of earthquakes, and a 25-fold surge in oil shipments by rail in the last five years.  

These shipments have resulted in eight serious oil train accidents in the US and Canada in just the last year and in some cases the accidents caused spectacular fires and explosions. In the worst incident, last July in Canada, a train with 72 oil cars derailed and plowed into a town, exploded, killed 47 people and destroyed half of the town. 

Californians won’t take any comfort in knowing that more than 200,000 barrels of crude oil per month were imported into our state last summer by rail, a fourfold increase since 2012, according to a Los Angeles Times report in September.
Supporters of fracking primarily cite its alleged economic benefits. Of course, oil and gas companies stand to make considerable profits from the use of fracking, but these same companies also like to point to the potential for increased revenues to state and municipal governments and substantial job creation. But do oil industry claims about enhanced government revenues and job growth from an expansion of fracking really hold up to scrutiny? Let’s examine the recent experience of the city of Carson.

Carson is a demographically diverse community of about 92,000 residents located in southwestern Los Angeles County. Occidental Petroleum has proposed a massive oil project there and is seeking to drill more than 200 new wells in the northern part of the city, near Cal State Dominguez Hills. On March 18, according to the Times, the Carson City Council unanimously passed a 45-day moratorium on all new oil drilling because of citizen outcry about the dangers presented by the Occidental project, especially the use of fracking.

However, on April 29, the Carson council failed to garner enough votes to extend the moratorium, in part because, unlike previous council meetings, supporters of the drilling project, many of them claiming to be union members with T-shirts and signs that read “Jobs for Carson,” showed-up in large numbers.

How many jobs are we talking about? According to Carson City Councilman Albert Robles, a little over 100 temporary jobs (such as construction), and less than two-dozen long-lasting jobs over the life of the project (estimated to be 30 to 40 years). And this is according to Occidental’s own numbers.   

Councilman Robles, who grew-up in Carson, is the first in his family to graduate from high school and he went on to obtain several university degrees (culminating with a juris doctorate from UC Berkeley). He’s nobody’s fool. He led the charge on the 45-day moratorium and voted to extend it. “When you’ve got 10,000 residents who live in their homes within a very short vicinity of that [Occidental] project and two-dozen jobs, it’s a no-brainer to me,” Robles is quoted saying in the Times. “But it’s not about the jobs. It’s about money [for Occidental].”

What about revenue to the city of Carson from the Occidental project? Again, according to Councilman Robles, city staff has estimated it would amount to roughly $1 million a year after the project ramps up to full capacity. This for a city that currently has an annual budget of about $70 million. This $1 million amounts to 1.4 percent of that annual budget — a pittance. So much for an economic boom for the city of Carson from Occidental’s proposed oil drilling project.
I asked Councilman Robles if he agreed that Carson could be a microcosm for the entire state of California, which is constantly bombarded with oil industry hype about all the jobs and government revenue that will accrue from an expansion of fracking in our state. He answered “yes.”

Big Oil has a powerful grip on the California Legislature, and that goes a long way toward explaining why multiple bills calling for a fracking moratorium died in 2013, despite the fact that Democrats held super-majorities in both the Assembly and Senate. Last year the Western States Petroleum Association ranked first in lobbying spending, $4.7 million, according to official filings, the Times reported. Chevron was close behind, having spent nearly $4 million in 2013.   

Let us hope that two of our local state legislators, Assemblyman Chris Holden and Sen. Carol Liu, both Democrats, will not be unduly influenced by Big Oil’s money this year and will support a new bill that calls for a statewide moratorium on fracking, Senate Bill 1132. 

John Grula, PhD, is affiliated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists.

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