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BLM embraces controversial fracking report to support its oil and gas strategy

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In a move that did not satisfy critics, the California office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced Thursday a new plan forward for the development of oil and gas in California. The announcement was based, in part, on a controversial new "fracking" study just released by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST).

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Entitled "Advanced Well Stimulation Technologies in California: An Independent Review of Scientific and Technical Information," the study investigated current and future well stimulation practices in California, including hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The study also looked into how implementation of these technologies differed from California in other states and the impacts, if any, on water supply and quality, earthquakes, environmental emissions, ecology, traffic, and noise.

BLM commissioned the study last September, seeking an independent and expert review of well stimulation in order to better plan for future oil and gas development in the state. The report was prepared by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), with help from the Pacific Institute. The findings were developed under the guidance of a steering committee of 12 experts drawn from major California research institutes and included experts from other states who were experienced in well stimulation technology.

Some of the findings were controversial to some, especially those who are opposed to fracking anywhere. For example, the report concluded that well stimulation in California is different than in other states. These differences include 20 times fewer stimulations being done per month in California than in the rest of the United States, the wells in California are shallower and vertical instead of horizontal, and the technique uses less water than in other parts of the country. However, chemicals used in California are more concentrated than elsewhere. These findings led to the conclusion that experiences with hydraulic fracturing in other parts of the country do not necessarily apply to fracking in California.

Other findings included that most future fracking will be done in and near existing oil fields in the San Joaquin Basin in a manner similar to current practices, California well stimulation technologies do not result in a significant increase in seismic hazard, there are no publicly reported instances of potable water contamination from subsurface releases in California, and finally, the direct environmental impacts of well stimulation practice in California appear to be relatively limited.

However, the report's authors did caution that there are significant areas of information lacking that could impact their findings in the future. For example, the groundwater quality near many hydraulic fracturing operations was unknown and insufficient data currently exists to evaluate the extent to which contamination may have occurred. In order to better evaluate the risks to groundwater from fracking, better and more accurate data needs to be developed.

Despite these concerns, BLM embraced the report and will proceed with its plans. As stated by BLM California State Director Jim Kenna, "The CCST report, in concert with the public scoping report and internal guidance, provide key scientific data, internal process, and public participation components to better inform decisions for the future of the BLM oil and gas program in California.With these pieces in place, we will be able to both contribute to meeting America's energy needs and implement appropriate, safe, and responsible measures to protect groundwater and other critical resources."

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