Skip to main content

Oil and gas industry representatives constantly like to talk about the “small amounts” of water that the industry currently uses in fracking operations in Kern County and coastal areas of California.

However, on April 28, Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and former press spokesman for the Westlands Water District, admitted in an interview on National Public Radio (NPR) what the anti-fracking community has known for a long time: Once they figure out how to make the Monterey Shale economically viable, the water usage will ramp up significantly.

Here is a partial transcript of Lauren Sommer’s interview with Hull, courtesy of the Stop Fracking California State facebook page:

TUPPER HULL: In California today, hydraulic fracturing uses very small amounts of water.

SOMMER: Tupper Hull is with the Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry group. He points out, all together, fracking operations in California currently use the same amount of water each year as 650 homes do.

HULL: It is not a lot of water in the big picture. Companies are looking very diligently at ways to reduce that number.

SOMMER: But a drilling boom in the Monterey Shale could change that. Fracking there uses more water than anywhere else in the state, up to a million gallons per well.

HULL: I think it's fair to say that if this technology that has proved so successful in other parts of the country can be as successful here, that we will see water consumption for hydraulic fracturing going up.

Listen Here:

Yes, there is no doubt that “we will see water consumption for hydraulic fracturing going up” as the oil industry expands its fracking operations through the state’s land and coastal waters.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the controversial process of injecting millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals underground at high pressure in order to release and extract oil or gas. In California, the main target of fracking is the oil found in the Monterey Shale Formation.

Nobody really knows how much water is used for fracking in California. Although corporate agribusiness remains the biggest user of state and federal water project water exported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the oil industry uses significant quantities of water that will only increase with the expansion of fracking.

The oil industry’s allies in state government, like the industry representatives themselves, try to minimize the amount of water that is used for hydraulic fracturing operations.

In a post on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) website on March 20, 2013, Richard Stapler, Deputy Secretary for Communications of the California Natural Resources Agency, claimed that only 8 acre feet of water is used every year for hydraulic fracturing in California. (

In a recent blog piece on the WSPA website entitled, “Oil Production and the Drought: We Get It," Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association and former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California, actually used a higher figure - "less than 300 acre feet of water" - for the amount of water used for fracking than Stapler did.

“Hydraulic fracturing does not use large volumes of water, at least not in California,” Reheis-Boyd said. “All of the hydraulic fracturing that occurred last year used less than 300 acre feet of water, according to the California Department of Conservation. That’s about the same amount of water needed to keep two West Coast golf courses green." (

On the other hand, Adam Scow, California Campaigns Director for Food & Water Watch, revealed that the oil industry in Kern County, where 70 percent of California's oil reserves are located, used 150,000 acre feet of water in 2008 alone. This water was used for both steam injection and fracking operations.

“When you consider that 8 barrels of water are used for every barrel of oil extracted, you could be getting into millions of acre feet used for fracking oil wells,” he noted.

If 30,000 potential fracking sites were utilized, that could result in the consumption of an additional 450,000 acre feet of water, considering that each fracking operation uses 15 acre feet of water, said Barbara Barrigan–Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta.

She also noted that the industry has used four times the amount of water that it has claimed in Colorado and other states where fracking has been used to extract oil and natural gas.

Although the amount specifically used in fracking operations is hard to pinpoint, one thing is for certain - oil companies use big quantities of water in their current oil drilling operations in Kern County. Much of this water comes through the State Water Project's California Aqueduct and the Central Valley Water Project's Delta-Mendota Canal, spurring increasing conflicts between local farmers and oil companies over available water when Californians continue to suffer from a historic drought

"What's resoundingly clear, however, is that it takes more water than ever just to sustain Kern County's ebbing oil production," according to Jeremy Miller's 2011 investigative piece, "The Colonization of Kern County," in Orion Magazine (

"At the height of California oil production in 1985, oil companies in Kern County pumped 1.1 billion barrels of water underground to extract 256 million barrels of oil—a ratio of roughly four and a half barrels of water for every barrel of oil," according to Miller. "In 2008, Kern producers injected nearly 1.3 billion barrels of water to extract 162 million barrels of oil—a ratio of nearly eight barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced."

Miller's investigation yielded some alarming data on how much water has been used by the oil industry in Kern County and statewide since the 1960s.

"In the time since steamflooding was pioneered here in the fields of Kern County in the 1960s, oil companies statewide have pumped roughly 2.8 trillion gallons of fresh water—or, in the parlance of agriculture, nearly 9 million acre-feet—underground in pursuit of the region's tarry oil," said Miller. "Essentially, enough water has been injected into the oil fields here over the last forty years to create a lake one foot deep covering more than thirteen thousand square miles—nearly twice the surface area of Lake Ontario."

Another thing that is very clear is that the expansion of fracking will cause massive contamination of groundwater and surface supplies in California. According to David Braun of Californians Against Fracking, the industry's own data indicated that 5 to 6% of the casings for fracked wells fail in the first year of operation - and 50 percent fail over a 30-year period.

Fracking operations use numerous toxic chemicals, including methanol, benzene, naphthalene and trimethylbenzene, that imperil groundwater supplies, rivers and lakes. Increased water contamination resulting from fracking operations in the Central Valley is the last thing that collapsing populations of Central Valley salmon and steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt and other fish populations need.

There is also no doubt that Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels would supply the water used to expand fracking in Kern County, as well as provide subsidized water to corporate agribusiness interests farming toxic, drainage-impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

On March 4, Restore the Delta and Food and Water Watch released a new map that shows that the 35-mile long twin tunnels would mainly supply water to the largest agribusiness users of Delta water exports, land impaired by toxic selenium concentrations that make farming unsustainable, and the oil and gas basins where the energy industry could expand fracking.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla noted that fracking is another “water intensive industry” in the San Joaquin Valley that will further contaminate groundwater supplies already impaired by selenium, nitrates, pesticides and other pollutants.

“The governor's plan describes water for fracking via the proposed peripheral tunnels as a beneficial use,” she stated, referring to the BDCP website. “Beneficial for whom? The peripheral tunnels would benefit unsustainable corporate agribusiness in one region and potentially the energy industry – at the expense of everyday Californians.”

“This map shows a remarkable overlay of where our water is going, how the public subsidizes unsustainable crops on drainage-impaired lands, selenium concentrations that pose a threat to the public, and underlying oil deposits that could be fracked with water from the governor’s tunnels," she said. “Unsustainable farming has damaged these lands. And the taxpayers have been subsidizing it.”

Chook Chook Hillman, a member of the Karuk Tribe and the Klamath Justice Coalition, summed up the threat that fracking, massive water exports and the peripheral tunnels pose to salmon, other fish and people at a big rally against fracking attended by 4,000 people on March 14 at the State Capitol in Sacramento.

“Brown is setting aside all the environmental rules in order to ship water south," said Hillman. “Fracking will take good water, put chemicals in it and then it will come out toxic forever. Fracking will affect all us - fracking is a terrible use of water, water that could be used for people and fish.” (

Background: How Fracking Contaminates Our Water and Air

Fracking routinely employs numerous toxic chemicals, including methanol, benzene, naphthalene and trimethylbenzene, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. About 25 percent of fracking chemicals could cause cancer, according to scientists with the Endocrine Disruption Exchange. Evidence is mounting throughout the country that these chemicals are making their way into aquifers and drinking water.

Water quality can also be threatened by methane contamination tied to drilling and the fracturing of rock formations. This problem has been highlighted by footage of people in fracked areas setting fire to methane-laced water from kitchen faucets.

Fracking can also expose people to harm from lead, arsenic and radioactivity that are brought back to the surface with fracking flowback fluid. Fracking requires an enormous amount of water, and because fracking waste water contains dangerous toxins it generally cannot be cleaned and reused for other purposes. Especially during a historic drought, we cannot afford to permanently remove massive quantities of this precious resource from our state’s water supply.

Fracking also pollutes the air by releasing dangerous petroleum hydrocarbons, including benzene, toluene and xylene. It can also increase levels of ground-level ozone, a key risk factor for asthma and other respiratory illness. Air pollution caused by fracking contributes to the risk of asthma, cancer, and other health problems in people living near fracked wells, according to a Colorado School of Public Health study. (

For more information, go to:

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  all units/please copy.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    decent wages don't eliminate jobs. Republicans eliminate jobs; and workers, and prospects, and then excuse it all and call for more austerity. there is no end to their ignorant, arrogant avarice. only political dinosaurs support their treachery.

    by renzo capetti on Tue May 06, 2014 at 04:57:13 PM PDT

  •  Without doubt (0+ / 0-)

    This is my favorite diary on Daily Kos. The issue of water in the Central Valley is coming to a head, and I believe it may be the sleeper political issues of the summer. That's why it is so important to keep to the facts as you do Dan. What has happened in Kern County for decades has taken place away from scrutiny. It is almost like a bit of the Deep South or Oklahoma in the middle of a very blue state, but with more Hispanics and Basques. Bakersfield or "Nashville West" sometimes refers to Nashville as "Bakersfield East".

    The lead meme is that the water is needed to grow your food. This covers up the long-term problem of growing plants that require 50-80 inches of rain equivalent a year. Mature citrus, for example, take 60 inches. For a primer on agricultural water use and the kinds of crops that are appropriate for the San Joaquin Valley there this (takes a while to load). But the upshot is that we need to irrigate smart and reduce meat production, particularly beef, and dairy, to get the alfalfa monkey off our backs. Almonds, pistachios, tomatoes, not that bad because of their high commercial value.

  •  and of course the awl bidness (0+ / 0-)

    As noted on other posts, Kern County is the oil-production hub of on-shore production in California. Oil calls the shots, as it rightly feels, as it also pays a considerable share of Kern County taxes. It is hard to remember a politician with an unkind word to say about the oil business. "You call that smell air pollution? I call it the smell of money."  

  •  This article just posts on the Denver Post... (0+ / 0-)

    "Gov. John Hickenlooper has called for zero emissions of methane, which the Environmental Protection Agency has determined to be 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat — causing climate change."

    "Scientists have found that Colorado's Front Range oil and gas boom has been emitting three times more methane than previously believed — 19.3 tons an hour — a climate-change problem that state officials hope new rules will address."

    Confucius say: "Man who want pretty nurse, must be patient."

    by Lencialoo on Thu May 08, 2014 at 02:51:15 AM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site