By Burt Wilson
The State of California, its water agencies, southern cities and valley farmers and water rate-payers are on the verge of spending upwards of $50-billion to build twin tunnels in theSacramento/San-Joaquin Delta to send more Northern California water south. Presumably, this water will go for urban and agricultural use, but don't bet on it. California oil companies are already angling for their share of Delta water to use for hydraulic fracturing-"fracking"-on new shale wells in the lower central valley and coastal areas.
Fracking is highly water-intensive. It takes anywhere from 3-to-8-
million gallons of water to shake loose natural gas and oil from a shale well. Such wells are drilled thousands of feet below the surface into fissures where the seismic-sensitive shale deposits lie. The water, combined with sand and a goodly amount of undisclosed chemicals, some of them reportedly carcenogenic, is pumped into the shale under very high pressure and the oil and gas are then lifted to the surface as condensate. Each well can be fracked up to 18 times. The chief environmental fear is that the chemicals used will percolate up into water tables and destroy underground aquifers.
Currently, the oil companies are getting their fresh water from wherever they can--farmer's surplus, cities surplus, sometimes right out of the fire hydrant. Since most of the oil companies in California are out frantically leasing all the land they can get their hands on, a huge water supply for well fracking is looming in California's immanent future. Occidental Petroleum is set to drill 154 shale wells in and about the Kern Oil Field in the next year.
To operate at top efficiency the California oil companies will have to purchase what is called "surplus" water. Salt water and waste water, even when treated, can upset the chemical balance and is too expensive to use. The likely agencies for such supplies are the Kern County Water Bank and the Westlands Water District, two of California's largest fresh water suppliers.
There is lucrative potential in selling fresh water for fracking. In Greely, Colorado, for example, farmers pay $30 an acre foot and the oil and gas companies pay $3,300. At this price, the water agencies stand to make $4-to $5-million extra a year. The fact that it is a seller's market is not lost on the California water agencies.
California Valley farmers are already grumbling about there not being enough water to go around due to the oil companies' ability to out-bid them.
One of Gov. Jerry Brown's "dual goals"--his rationales for an expensive Delta conveyance--is to afford "a sustainable water supply for the state of California." But if much of California's precious water supply is going to be sold off to the oil companies for fracking purposes, it defeats the whole concept of the dual goals and begs the question: sustainable for whom--The urban users, the agricultural users or the oil companies?
We must ask: just who are the water agencies building the $50-billion twin-tunnels for?