San Diego Union-Tribune Endorses Fracking, Overlooks Impact On California's Wine Industry

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An editorial in the November 15 edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune advocated for an "oil-shale revolution" by expanding fracking in California, completely ignoring the harmful economic and environmental impacts fracking could have on agriculture and the renowned, multi-billion dollar wine industry in California.

The Union-Tribune gave a whole-hearted endorsement of fracking, specifically in the Monterey Formation region of central California, saying in its editorial:

On Dec. 12, the federal Bureau of Land Management is set to auction off drilling rights to nearly 18,000 acres in Monterey, San Benito and Fresno counties. We hope Gov. Jerry Brown and state regulators talk a calm look at fracking and its long history. Environmentalists' griping about fracking's allegedly huge downside only ramped up when new methods proved transformative for oil and gas exploration.

[...]

Even if California's media haven't caught on to the state's potential for a Bakken-style economic boom, the oil industry has. By far the BLM's biggest 2011 lease was the $180,000 paid for a 200-acre parcel by Vintage Production California, a Bakersfield-based subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, the third-largest U.S. oil and gas producer. On Oxy's website, it estimates the shale reserves on California land it already controls to have over 20 billion barrels of potential oil - a claim that the company says is made in accordance with the Securities and Exchange Commission's rule that only "economically producible" reserves can be cited in SEC filings.

The Union-Tribune left out some important voices in the discussion on fracking, most notably farmers and winery owners. Simon Salinas, a member of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, has expressed fear that it could taint the food and water supply needed to grow crops or produce wine -- which in California is a $19.9 billion a year industry. 

Western States Petroleum Association -- an oil industry lobbying group -- has countered that, so far, fracking in California has required less water than in other states due to the type of fracking being done. However, a June study by the nonprofit Pacific Institute noted the massive amounts of water needed to frack. Heather Cooley, a researcher from Pacific Institute, said:

We have concerns about water availability in California, so if there is a large increase in fracking, it could ... put strain on California's existing resources.

Houston Chronicle article counters the Western States Petroleum Association's comments as well, pointing out that "the amount of water needed for fracking could grow if the practice becomes widespread."

California is well known for its variable environmental conditions. The Association of California Water Agencies, a coalition of 450 public water agencies, has stated that 2007 was one of the driest years on record causing former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to proclaim drought emergencies in parts of California. With climate change affecting weather patterns, the coalition believes these drought-like conditions will only worsen and alter the state's water supply. Given that at the peak of the season even smaller wineries consume up to 30,000 gallons of water per month, even small amounts of water being detoured to drilling operations could be detrimental to wineries across California.

The Union-Tribune also whitewashed concerns about groundwater contamination related to increased fracking activity. Groundwater pollution has already been seen in Kern County, California where in 2009 a farmer was awarded $8.5 million in damages after almond trees were harmed when he irrigated them with well water that was contaminated by oil and gas operations.  While it remains unknown if fracking fluids were part of the waste water, the potential for contamination is clear and has an impact on the agriculture industry. Earlier this year, several members of upstate New York's wineries and breweries asked Gov. Mario Cuomo to ban fracking in New York due to fears that groundwater contamination will force them to close or to relocate.

The Union-Tribune, however, refuses to even acknowledge and inform its readers of these potential hazards of fracking, instead opting to push the oil and gas industry narrative. 

Posted In
Environment & Science, Energy
Show/Publication
San Diego Union Tribune
Stories/Interests
State Media
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