Fracking in California

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Fracking in California
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Regulatory agency Department of Conservation; Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources
Estate ownership Split[1]
Fossil fuels present Oil and natural gas[2]
Year fracking began 1980s[3]
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Fracking in California depends on available energy resources, the location of these resources, applicable laws and regulations, politics, and the power of environmental and industry groups. Decisions by policymakers and citizens, including state and local governments and ballot initiatives, affect if and how fracking occurs in a state.

The process of fracking is under heavy scrutiny in California. The 2014 California Democratic Party Platform called for an immediate moratorium on fracking, a position not supported by California's Governor Jerry Brown. Fracking has been occurring in California for more than 30 years.[4][5][6]

Fracking background

See also: Fracking

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is the process of injecting fluid--mostly water and sand, but with additional chemicals--into the ground at a high pressure to fracture shale rocks and release the oil and natural gas inside.

Recent technological advances in oil and gas drilling--horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing--have created a wealth of opportunities and challenges for states with fossil fuel reserves that can be accessed through the combination of these two technologies. The increased use of fracking has been an economic boon for many states, not only those with fracking, but also those with supporting industries, such as frac sand mining or associated machinery manufacturing.

Opponents of fracking argue that the potential negative environmental and human health impacts could be significant. Although wells have been fracked for over 65 years in the United States, concerns have been raised about whether federal, state and local regulatory agencies can keep up with the recent rapid increase in fracking activity, and adequately protect the environment and human health. As with any type of energy extraction, either traditional or renewable, there are economic, environmental and political tradeoffs.


The first reports of oil in California date to the 1500s (early explorers noticed that Native Americans gathered asphaltum, a thick oil, from natural seeps). The first oil well in the state was drilled in 1861 in Humboldt County. Although the well was unsuccessful, this event marked the beginning of extensive drilling efforts in California. The first offshore wells in California (and the nation as a whole) were drilled in 1896 in Santa Barbara County.[7]

The first significant gas zone discovered outside of an oil field was identified in 1926 in Kern County, although activity in the area was minimal due to the fact that natural gas was not in demand at the time. Gas exploration began in earnest in the late 1930s, increasing through the 1940s and 1950s. Beginning in the 1940s, gas demand exceeded supply, owing to population growth in the state.[7]

According to the California Department of Conservation, fracking has been used in California since the 1980s.[3]

According to the publisher of this photo, it is from a 1921 promotional brochure titled, "Orange County California, Nature's Prolific Wonderland - Spring Eternal."

Fracking at the ballot box

Voting on Fracking
Fracking policy
Ballot Measures
By state
By year
Not on ballot
See also: Local fracking on the ballot

Two local initiatives relating to fracking will appear on the ballot in California on November 4, 2014. Measures in San Benito County and Santa Barbara County will, if approved by voters, prohibit fracking operations in these areas.

Two additional measures (one in Butte County and one in Mendocino County) also deal with fracking bans, although it has not yet been determined whether these will appear on the ballot in November.

Economic impact

The use of fracking, often in combination with horizontal drilling, has made it possible to extract supplies of oil and natural gas that were once economically unfeasible to extract. This has led to significant growth in the domestic oil and gas industry, and in the supply of domestically produced oil and natural gas. The growth in activity has impacted the economy in direct ways, such as increased capital investments (from both the U.S. and other countries), royalty and lease payments, and government revenues in the form of fees and taxes. The increased supply of natural gas and oil has also affected electricity prices, manufacturing, service industries and employment. In many places, fracking has increased employment in the mining (oil and gas) sector and supporting industries, such as the restaurant and housing sectors. Consumers and manufacturers have also benefitted thus far from lower oil and natural gas prices, and increased demand for pipeline, drilling and other ancillary equipment. As demand for natural gas and oil grows, however, prices are expected to rise.[8]

Taxes, fees and revenue

Fracking booms can increase local government revenue through increases in property and sales taxes, which can help compensate for the costs detailed below. The primary revenue streams from fracking--mineral leasing revenues and severance taxes--go to state and federal governments. As of June 2013, California employed the following oil and gas production tax:

  • "$0.1406207 on each barrel of oil and 10,000 cubic feet of natural gas produced."
  • Counties can assess their own ad valorem taxes.

The revenue collected from this tax funds the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, within the Department of Conservation.[9]

Royalties and land sales

Oil pumps in the San Joaquin Valley

The United States is one of the few countries where property owners can own the right to use and build on their land, known as surface rights, but they may not own the rights to the minerals located under their property. Depending on the state the mineral rights may have been sold in the past and may now belong to someone other than the surface owner. In fact, those mineral rights may belong to more than one individual, a company, or many individuals, who now have the right to extract those minerals, and in some states this can happen without the permission of the property owner. This can cause tension between the mineral owner, or whoever is leasing the mineral rights, and property owner.[10] The federal government doesn't collect data on oil and natural gas royalty and land sales on private land. A 2014 study attempted to estimate these figures and determined that California (among the lower 48 states) was second in private royalty income in the nation. The study also found that for 2010:

  • Private oil revenue was $10,756 million
  • Private natural gas revenue was $1,119 million
  • Estimated royalty income was $1,484 million
  • Royalty income was 0.1 percent of state average income.[11][12]

Economic impact studies

Below is a study about the economic impact of the oil and natural gas industry in California (the oil and gas industry is also categorized as the mining industry in some studies). Both the author(s) and sponsor(s) of the study have been listed.

Study for the American Petroleum Institute

Economic modeling
IMPLAN and REMI are two econometric modeling systems used in both the private and public sectors to predict economic outcomes of policy changes. While these systems are widely used and highly respected, their results are theoretical and may not be universally accepted.

Because the oil and gas industry has grown so rapidly, there is not a wealth of data regarding its economic impacts. Instead, economists use forecasting models, such as IMPLAN and REMI, to predict the impact increased fossil fuel extraction is having on the economy. These studies usually measure both direct impacts, i.e., the jobs and income being added within the oil and gas industry and indirect impacts, i.e., jobs created throughout the supply chain. These studies also include induced impact, i.e., jobs created through increased spending due to growth in the industry.[16]

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), a research consulting firm, completed a study for the American Petroleum Institute about the economic impact of the oil and natural gas industry in 2011 in California. According to the PwC study, the oil and gas industry added $131.45 billion in total value in 2011, including direct, indirect and induced value. Of this $69.47 billion, or 3.6 percent, of the state's total value added was direct, $27.79 billion was indirect and $34.19 billion was induced, totaling 6.7 percent of the state's total value in 2011.[16]


The PwC study attributes 793,210 jobs, or 4.1 percent of California's employment in 2011, to jobs created directly by, indirectly by, or induced from, the oil and natural gas industry. The industry directly employed 182,777 people, or 0.9 percent of state total employment. Indirectly the industry employed 235,546 people and induced 374,887 jobs.[16]

Direct, indirect and induced labor income, according to this study, was $58.88 billion, totaling 4.9 percent of the state's labor income in 2011. Direct labor income from the mining sector was $21.73 billion, or 1.8 percent of the state's total. Indirect labor income totaled $17.16 billion and induced labor income was almost $20 billion.[16]

Environmental impact

Because of the sudden and unprecedented growth in fracking across the United States, getting high-quality, unbiased, state-specific information on the environmental impacts of fracking can be difficult. Most studies that would fit those first two qualifications are government studies that focus on the nation as a whole. As such, much of the information that follows in this section may only apply generally to the state. State-specific information has been added where possible.


As with any type of energy extraction, there are several areas of risk when it comes to air quality. In the case of fracking, these risks include air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and methane. Some environmental groups have raised concerns that methane could be leaked during the extraction process, resulting in unnecessary pollution.[17][18] Most of this pollution occurs during the well completion phase. Fracking operations can also emit known carcinogens, which have been linked with increased rates of cancer.[19]


With regard to carbon dioxide, when natural gas is used to generate electricity in power plants, it produces fewer carbon emissions than coal-fired power plants. According to a 2014 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "as a result of the increased use of natural gas, CO2 emissions from U.S. fossil-fuel power plants were 23% lower in 2012 than they would have been” without the increase in natural gas use.[20] During the extraction process, however, methane is emitted, and methane actually traps 20 times more carbon dioxide than other greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), CO2 emissions in the United States dropped by 3.8 percent in 2012, due in large part to the "increased availability of natural gas, linked to the shale gas revolution."[21][20]

A 2014 report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found a decrease of 3.3 percent in overall greenhouse gas emissions and a 12 percent decrease in methane emissions from 2011 to 2012. Natural gas extraction is the second largest producer of methane, after cattle.[18][22]


An oil rig off the coast of Surfside, CA

The central and eastern United States have been experiencing an increased number of earthquakes over the last few years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the government agency responsible for such data. Studies from the USGS have not found fracking directly responsible for this increase in felt earthquakes; however, the USGS is looking into regulations that would use seismic data to determine thresholds dictating when and where fracking can occur.[23] There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that this growth in the number earthquakes has been caused by the increased use of injection wells to dispose of fracking wastewater. While fracking has been rarely known to cause earthquakes, there is an established scientific link between earthquakes and the disposal of fluids in deep, underground injection wells. Once a well has been fracked, the water returned to the surface is called wastewater, and contains large amounts of salt and other contaminants.[24] Some of this water can be recycled, but that water which can't be recycled is often stored in injection wells. These injection wells are generally considered the safest and most cost-effective place for wastewater to be stored. Injection wells are located thousands of feet underground and are encased in cement. Multiple drilling wells often rely on one disposal well for wastewater storage. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are 144,000 of these wells across the United States receiving 2 billion gallons of frack fluid per day.[23][25]

Induced seismology, or man-made earthquakes, have been around for decades and can be caused by mining, damming rivers and injecting fluids into underground wells. Earthquakes are caused by injection wells when water pumped into underground wells causes the faults under the earth to slip. Even though scientists at the USGS have been able to cause earthquakes intentionally by carefully injecting liquid into the earth, the link between injection wells and earthquakes is not fully understood. One of the largest concerns for scientists and regulators is that they do not have the tools to predict whether wastewater will cause seismic activity. These concerns are compounded by the lack of knowledge about where faults are located across the central and eastern United States. The USGS is just beginning to map these areas in more detail in order to understand the seismic risks. As of June 2014, these earthquakes have typically been small, two or three in magnitude on the Richter scale, but at least one scientist has raised concerns that earthquakes could grow in intensity if old injection wells continue to be used for storage.[23][24]


When it comes to water protection and fracking there are four main areas of risk: the depletion of fresh water sources, spills and leaks of fracking fluid into water, mismanaged produced water and flowback, and stormwater pollution. Stormwater, flowback, produced water and wastewater can be harmful because they contain total dissolved solids and naturally occurring radioactive materials. Because of the recent rapid growth in fracking, there are still many uncertainties about the effects of fracking on water. There are studies that link fracking to groundwater contamination, but they remain controversial. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is releasing a report in 2014 on the potential impacts of fracking on drinking water, and is working on effective programs for managing these potential risks.[19][26]

One of the main criticisms of fracking is that the process uses a disproportionately large amount of water. Up to 10 million gallons of fresh water may be required to frack one well. A 2014 study from the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas found, however, that the amount of water used in a traditional well, versus a hydraulically fractured well, is not appreciably different. According to one of the researchers, Dr. Bridget Scanlon, "The water used to produce oil using hydraulic fracturing is similar to the water used in the U.S. to produce oil using conventional techniques." The only difference between the amount of water used and the two oil or gas production techniques, is when in the process water is used. The study was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.[27][28]


Because of the recent, rapid growth of fracking, little is known about the potential impacts to human health. Government agencies dealing with human health issues have raised concerns about some chemicals that can be released during the fracking process, including VOCs. The Centers for Disease Control are working with the EPA and federal, state and local agencies to better understand potential impacts.[29][30]

Socioeconomic impact

Fracking can also present challenges to communities. Increased oil and natural gas production happens in boom or bust cycles, and often these cycles disproportionately occur in rural communities. Large scale fracking booms can also lead to increases in crime, such as substance abuse, sex trade and domestic abuse. An influx of oil and gas workers also strains housing and traffic resources. This lack of housing can push oil and gas workers into so-called 'man camps,' which are "clusters of mobile homes, RVs, and trucks," or into hotels. A fracking boom also puts heavy traffic on roads, which can strain infrastructure, increase traffic accidents, and increase the likelihood of oil spills. Local governments respond by hiring more police, social workers, health care workers and emergency response personnel, thereby spending more of their budgets on roads and social programs. Currently, much of the tax revenue generated by the oil and gas industry goes to the federal and state government, not the local governments.[19]

Departments, agencies and organizations

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State energy policy

State fracking policy

Energy policy terms

Fracking in the U.S.

Energy use in the U.S.

Energy policy in the U.S.

See also
Local fracking on the ballot

Statewide fracking on the ballot

  • The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) is an agency within the California Department of Conservation. Established in 1915, the division "supervises the drilling, operation, maintenance, and plugging and abandonment of onshore and offshore oil, gas, and geothermal wells, preventing damage to: (1) life, health, property, and natural resources; (2) underground and surface waters suitable for irrigation or domestic use; and (3) oil, gas, and geothermal reservoirs."[31]
  • The California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) was established in 1991 as a cabinet-level agency. The agency's stated mission is "to restore, protect and enhance the environment, to ensure the public health, environmental quality and economic vitality." The department is comprised of six offices, boards and departments:[32]
    • Air Resources Board
    • Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery
    • Department of Pesticide Regulation
    • Department of Toxic Substances Control
    • Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment
    • State Water Resources Control Board

Major organizations

  • The California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) is a non-profit trade organization that represents the state's independent oil and natural gas producers, royalty owners, service and supply companies. The organization formed in 1976 from the merger of the Independent Oil and Gas Producers' Association and the California Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association. The organization's mission statement is as follows:[33][34]
The mission of the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) is to promote greater understanding and awareness of the unique nature of California's independent oil and natural gas producer and the market place in which he or she operates; highlight the economic contributions made by California independents to local, state and national economies; foster the efficient utilization of California's petroleum resources; promote a balanced approach to resource development and environmental protection and improve business conditions for members of our industry.[35]

—California Independent Petroleum Association

CIPA is listed as a "cooperating association" by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which is a national trade group that "advocates its members' views before the U.S. Congress, the Administration and federal agencies."[36][37]
  • The Local Clean Energy Alliance (LCEA) is an environmental advocacy group. The group is comprised of 90 affiliated organizations and works toward "a clean energy future in the Bay Area." The organization's mission statement is as follows:
The mission of the Local Clean Energy Alliance is to promote the equitable development and democratization of local renewable energy resources as key to addressing climate change and building sustainable and resilient communities.[35]

—Local Clean Energy Alliance

LCEA is listed as a "coalition member" by Americans Against Fracking, which is a nationwide anti-fracking group.[38]

Natural gas use in California

For more information on energy consumption in California, see "Energy policy in California"

In 2011, roughly one-third of California's energy use was for transportation and one quarter was used for manufacturing. The rest was used mostly in residential and commercial buildings for heating, cooling, lighting and other functions. Agriculture accounts for a sizable part of total energy use in California, which ranks 16th of the 50 states in total farmland. Most of the energy used in the state is in the form of natural gas (used primarily for heating homes), followed closely by petroleum.[2]

Two out of three homes in California use natural gas as their primary heating source, which is greater than the national average. This is most likely due to the low cost of natural gas in the state. One quarter of the state still uses electricity despite the higher than average price in California.[2]

Consumption of energy for heating homes in California
Source California 2011 U.S. average 2011
Natural gas 66.2% 49.5%
Fuel oil 0.3% 6.5%
Electricity 25.5% 35.4%
Liquid Petroleum Gases (LPG) 3.1% 5%
Other/none 4.8% 3.6%

There are eight major natural gas utilities in California. The largest providers are Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Gas. The primary interstate pipelines that deliver imported natural gas to California customers are the Gas Transmission Northwest Pipeline, Kern River Pipeline, Transwestern Pipeline, El Paso Pipeline, the Ruby Pipeline, Questar Southern Trails and Mojave Pipeline. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulates the transportation of natural gas on the interstate pipelines. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) often participates in the FERC regulatory process in order to ensure that the interests of California natural gas consumers are represented adequately.[39][40]

Where electricity comes from in California[41]
Type Amount generated (MWh) % of state** % of U.S.**
Natural gas-fired 10,080,000 60.26% 0.99%
Coal-fired 76,000 0.45% 0%
Nuclear 1,581,000 9.45% 0.2%
Hydroelectric 1,469,000 8.78% 0.46%
Other renewables 2,853,000 17.06% 1.41%
Total net electricity generation 16,728,000 100% 0.41%
**Note: Because the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) does not include all of a state's energy production in these figures, the EIA totals do not equal 100 percent. Instead, we have generated our own percentages.

News items

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All stories may not be relevant to this page due to the nature of the search engine.

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See also

External links


  1. Frack Wire, "Mineral rights and fracking," June 17, 2013
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 U.S. Energy Information Administration, "California Profile Analysis," updated June 19, 2014
  3. 3.0 3.1 California Department of Conservation, "Hydraulic Fracturing in California," accessed July 22, 2014
  4. Berkeley Law, "Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing in California: A Wastewater and Water Quality Perspective," April 2013
  5. Think Progress, "Fracking is Creating a Rift Between Governor Jerry Brown And Some California Democrats," March 13, 2014
  6. Environmental Engineering & Contracting, Inc., "A Brief History of Hydraulic Fracturing," accessed May 6, 2014
  7. 7.0 7.1 California Department of Conservation, "Oil and Gas Production History in California," accessed July 23, 2014
  8. IHS, "US unconventional oil and gas revolution to increase disposable income by more than $2,700 per household and boost US trade position by more than $164 billion in 2020," accessed September 17, 2014
  9. National Conference of State Legislatures, "State Revenues and the Natural Gas Boom: An Assessment of State Oil and Gas Production Taxes," June 2013
  10., “Mineral Rights,” accessed January 29, 2014
  11. All the data presented below are in millions of nominal dollars. The royalty income figures assume a 1/8th royalty rate.
  12. Social Science Research Network, "U.S. Private Oil and Natural Gas Royalties: Estimates and Policy Considerations," March 12, 2014
  13. IMPLAN, "IMPLAN€'s History of Expert Economic Data," accessed September 17, 2014
  14. REMI, "About Us," accessed September 17, 2014
  15. REMI, "Clients," accessed September 17, 2014
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 PricewaterhouseCooper LLP, "Economic Impacts of the Oil and Natural Gas Industry on the US Economy 2011," July 2013
  17. University of Oklahoma, "Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Resources," accessed March 15, 2014
  18. 18.0 18.1 Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, "Written Testimony of Frances Beinecke," accessed March 2, 2014
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Stanford Law School Student Journals, "Local Government Fracking Regulations: A Colorado Case Study," January 2014
  20. 20.0 20.1 Cooperative Institute for Research Environmental Sciences,, "New study: U.S. power plant emissions down," January 9, 2014
  21. International Energy Agency, "Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map," June 10, 2013
  22. The Wall Street Journal, "Talk About Natural Gas: Cow Belches Top Methane List," February 26, 2014
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 U.S. Geological Survey, "Man-Made Earthquakes Update," January 17, 2014, accessed March 10, 2014
  24. 24.0 24.1 National Geographic, "Scientists Warn of Quake Risk From Fracking Operations," May 2, 2014
  25. National Public Radio, "How Oil and Gas Disposal Wells Can Cause Earthquakes," accessed June 2, 2014
  26. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Natural Gas Extraction - Hydraulic Fracturing," accessed March 10, 2014
  27. WOAI, "Research: Fracking Uses No More Water Than Traditional Oil Production," October 6, 2014
  28. Bureau of Economic Geology, "US Shale Reserves and Production Bureau Shale Gas Study," October 6, 2014
  29. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Garfield County," March 13, 2008, accessed March 10, 2014
  30. Centers for Disease Control, "Review of Federal Hydraulic Fracturing Research," April 26, 2013, accessed March 10, 2014
  31. California Department of Conservation, "Oil, Gas and Geothermal - About Us," accessed July 23, 2014
  32. California Environmental Protection Agency, "About Us," accessed July 23, 2014
  33. California Independent Petroleum Association, "Mission Statement," accessed July 23, 2014
  34. California Independent Petroleum Association, "About CIPA," accessed July 23, 2014
  35. 35.0 35.1 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  36. Independent Petroleum Association of America, "About IPAA," accessed July 16, 2014
  37. Independent Petroleum Association of America, "Cooperating Associations," accessed July 16, 2014
  38. Americans Against Fracking, "Coalition Members," accessed July 16, 2014
  39. California Public Utilities Commission, "California Energy Maps," accessed March 7, 2014
  40. California Public Utilities Commission, "Natural Gas and California," September 7, 2013
  41. U.S. Energy Information Administration, "California Profile Overview," accessed March 6, 2014