Lawmakers take up controversial fracking issue


Californians know the ups and downs of gas prices. But the oil industry says the state is sitting on a game changer.

Underneath the Golden State is supposedly 15 billion barrels of oil, mostly from the Monterey Shale which stretches hundreds of miles. If true, the vast reserves could position California as the next oil boom state, creating jobs and filling government coffers.

"You could replace all the foreign imports into California for something like 50 years. It's a huge amount of oil," said Tupper Hull of the Western States Petroleum Association.

But the way to get unreachable oil or natural gas deposits out of trapped rock is controversial. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting into the earth huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure below aquifers.

While fracking has been happening in California for decades, new technology is making it easier to wade through California's complicated geology.

Tim Kustic, state oil and gas supervisor for California's Department of Conservation, said: "There have been wells that have failed and have led to contamination. It is not associated with hydraulic fracturing, though."

Under pressure from critics who say fracking is largely unregulated in California, state lawmakers are finally holding hearings about the hotly debated extraction method. While earthquakes are a concern, health issues seem to be a priority.

"It's really a sham. It will not secure our energy future. It will merely pollute our water and our air. It should be banned," said Adam Scow, the California campaigns director for Food and Water Watch.

Gov. Jerry Brown has already proposed regulations requiring companies to disclose where they intend to drill and what chemicals they'll use. Still, environmentalists aren't satisfied.

The national debate on fracking was recently featured in the movie, The Promised Land, starring Matt Damon.

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