Under California’s central valley lies a vast field of shale oil that’s ready to be exploited thanks to the hotly debated oil and gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Known as the Monterey Shale Formation, the unconventional oilfield lies underneath the lower half of the San Joaquin Valley. The farmland sitting on top of the shale is known for producing raisins, nuts, fruits, vegetables and cotton.
The oil-rich Monterey Shale deposit represents a tantalizing opportunity for the oil industry, as unlike elsewhere, oil, not natural gas, is to be extracted. As the deposit lies, in part, over the Central Valley (aka our national vegetable patch) there is some urgency to bring regulations to bear before a new shale boom erupts.
For those accustomed to the inch-by-inch slog of the fracking debate in states like New York or Pennsylvania, it seems as though California is moving at warp speed.
On September 20th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law, which will regulate fracking in the Golden State as of January 1, 2014. The bill means – for now – no moratorium (as environmental groups had hoped) nor unrestricted easy, breezy access to drilling in the Monterey Shale (as the oil industry had hoped).
California will be home to the nation’s toughest fracking regulations, requiring permits to be filed for drilling wells, notification of neighbors living near wells, groundwater testing and more study of fracking’s effect on the environment. These requirements will also apply to acidizing, or the use of chemicals to dissolve shale rock formations.
The bill further requires that by January 2015, state officials must complete their environmental study and the state Department of Conservation must create the new fracking permitting process. As a part of that process, oil companies must fully disclose which chemicals are used in fracking, a provision to which the oil industry did not object.
This may just be the tip of the iceberg with fracking in California. While producing a lot of unconventional oil and gas may boost the economy, without the proper regulations and oversight, fracking could do a lot of harm to the state’s farmland.
Given California’s rich oil history, oil and agriculture interests have co-existed for a long time, but fracking could pit the two against each other for the first time.