Fracking's Long History in Kern County
The 1930s were the glory years for California companies like Standard Oil and Occidental Petroleum — with new oil reserves being found all the time. But in recent decades, oil and gas production has been falling as old wells began drying up. But production is up again in the past few years — largely because of the process known as hydraulic fracturing — or fracking. Fracking has been a huge economic boon in places like North Dakota and Pennsylvania. But it's also been extremely controversial. Environmentalists have pressed for a ban on fracking in California — and the issue is on the November ballot in several counties. But in fact, fracking isn't new at all in California. It's been happening for more than 40 years in Kern County, north of Los Angeles.
Monitoring Groundwater Concerns in the Central Valley
Fracking has stirred up huge controversy in places like North Dakota and West Virginia. Concerns about environmental damage, sudden development in rural communities, and so on. But it's also created lots of jobs in those places -- and it's generated lots of domestic energy. But some are calling for a moratorium on fracking in California -- something Gov. Jerry Brown has rejected. But there are some new temporary regulations in place. And in parts of state, some say these rules are long overdue. That's particularly true when it comes to concerns over possible impacts on groundwater. KQED Science visited one small town where that's happening, but it doesn't really look like oil country at first glance.
How Will the State Afford to Regulate Fracking?
Under new state regulations in California, oil companies will have to monitor the seismic activity during fracking and will have to stop if there's an earthquake that's 2.7 or greater. But state regulators already struggle to keep tabs on another part of the drilling process. That's raising questions about whether we even have the resources to oversee a fracking boom.
Local Communities Vote on Fracking Bans in November
Especially given the problems already seen at the state level, some aren't waiting around to see if state regulation of fracking works. Local communities are taking matters into their own hands. KQED Science visited two California counties where voters will decide the future of fracking next month.