Upon leaving an almost 3 hour public hearing yesterday where a good sized group of prepared property owners participated in the public process regarding new oil wells in the Valley where they live (read my article here in the Ojai Valley news), I found myself between a fracking servicing truck and a petroleum tanker truck.
I got into my Honda - a moderately efficient vehicle - and found myself on highway 101, behind a tanker truck, with the name Nabors Well Services on the back end, and to my left, passing me in the middle lane is a petroleum tanker truck. We are in oil country folks. And they are drilling and fracking. When I get home and look up Nabors, this is what it says on their website
“Nabors Well Services provides oil and gas well-servicing, workover and completion, as well as fluid transportation and disposal services. The company is a major player in the California market as well as in Texas, the mid-continent and Rocky Mountains.”
Those words “completion” and “fluid transportation and disposal” are words which indicate to me that the company participates in hydraulic fracturing, and in disposal and transport of the associated frack fluids left over after the process is done. I confirm that here
FLUID STORAGE: Nabors deploys and manages more than 3,700 portable tanks used to store various fluids used in hydraulic fracturing and in the drilling, completion and maintenance of oil and gas wells, as well as in other industrial applications.
PRESSURE PUMPING: Nabors operates nearly one million horsepower of mobile pressure pumping equipment, including hydraulic fracturing, acidizing and cementing, in the US and Canada. Nabors is one of the largest pressure pumping companies and will enhance that position as we capitalize on opportunities to expand globally, facilitated by the existing Nabors infrastructure.
Our gut response may be a negative one. This may not be the Ventura County you think of when you think of home. But it is the real one, and it’s been that way since the 1860’s when men, exploring the Upper Ojai valley, areas above Santa Paula and Fillmore, in Oxnard, and in Ventura along the avenue, used their hands, pick axes and wooden barrels to get a few barrels out of the ground. The first wells were dug by hand, then pumps were fashioned from eucalyptus tree trunks. Amazing and wonderful stories about our history “lie in them thar hills.”
I get home; churn out my article with the tight deadline. Leaving out so many good zingers, I wish folks would read (and there was room for) a 3000-word article in the paper. So much to tell, the monterey shale, the oil boom, how governments are preparing, industry is preparing, the legal community is preparing, and the public is preparing. I hear terms like 'energy independence'. That is especially appealing if it means our government won't feel the need to send the men and women of our military into harms way for oil. I really like that.
I’ve only been following local oil and gas activity for a few months. And the more I know, the more I don’t know. I find myself needing to talk with geologists, hydrology engineers, environmental lawyers, personal injury lawyers, oil field workers, property owners, and environmental organizations of every focus. One organization thinks that hydraulic fracturing will prevent global warming – if we can sell the technology to China and get them to stop burning coal.
There is tight oil, oil shale, tight shale, and sand. There is protected water, ground water, surface water, produced water, brine water, brackish water and recycled water. There is cap rock, shale rock, too many kinds of rocks. This is a science, and one of the most documented industries in the world. The men who started this industry were smart, meticulous, adventurous and determined. They hiked up into rough terrain with their leather bound log books documenting geologic formations, noting the types of rocks they found, locating the many seeps in our area and translating that and more into theories about where they would hit oil.
Our area does have natural gas too, and a lot of it comes up with the oil. Did you know that more water comes up with oil than oil? I didn’t know that. The oil and water is mixed together underground, before any human ever disturbs it.
And did you know that no one really knows how oil is formed? I always thought that there was a known process that takes millions of years, involves fossils getting compressed (i.e. Fossil fuels) and creates these hydrocarbon materials that we run our society on. But nope, it’s a mystery, they know some parts of it, but not the whole thing. Most of it is guessing. And those natural seeps our area and neighboring Santa Barbara County are known for, they are a bit of a mystery too. Apparently, no one really knows how they move under ground, how they interact with other seeps, with groundwater aquifers and other subsurface geologic formations. It raises a lot of questions. I’m trying to get permission to post a wonderful article about seeps, stay tuned.
And this is something we depend upon, this black gold. If you are reading this you depend on oil in your life. The manufacture of anything from computers to fabric requires petroleum products. If any of your food comes from anywhere other than your backyard, you need petroleum products.
What role does the public play? We need this substance, we want it cheap. We elect our government. Are we informed? Or do we prefer to look the other way? Mark Nechodom, the Director of the California Department of Conservation, appointed by Jerry Brown, told me (following recent DOGGR hearing in Bakersfield) that it is the publics responsibility to educate themselves about the relationship between the state regulators and the industry, to realize that the regulators are not the same as the industry. That got me thinking. And here too, is where the responsibility of the press as a watchdog comes into play.
I have questions about the transparency of the industry, about the claims of safety when there is no baseline testing, about how I hear on one hand that there are no proven cases of water contamination, but then we have a superfund site - where Benzene (a form of diesel) has contaminated ground water- in Fillmore. I think that qualifies as a proven case. Well, the EPA is making Chevron spend millions to clean it up. There are lots of settlements out of court. I’m told that oil & gas companies don’t want any precedent setting cases being decided in the courts so that is why there is the preference to settle.
A lot of questions. If it’s safe, let’s show it to be safe. Where there is risk, let’s show that risk. Lets ask questions, and find the true answers. The full story. It got me thinking.