California Tries to Decide If It Wants to Join the Shale Revolution
From The Economist
SHALE exploitation in North Dakota has lifted incomes and brought unemployment down to 3.2% of the workforce, the lowest level in the country. Californians are rarely found looking longingly towards the Midwest. But the revelation that their state, with unemployment at 9.8% and America’s highest poverty rate, may be sitting on the largest deposit of shale oil in the continental United States has led some to wonder if their salvation lies 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) beneath them.
California has been an oil state since 1865. Thanks largely to reserves that can still be tapped by conventional means, it remains the third-largest producer in the country. Output has lately been declining by 2-3% a year, according to the state’s Energy Commission. But in 2011 the federal Energy Information Administration declared that the Monterey shale formation, which spans 1,750 square miles (450,000 hectares) in southern and central California, held 15.42 billion barrels of recoverable oil, 64% of the total estimated to be in the 48 contiguous states.
That should be an attractive prospect for a state with a history of unemployment and fiscal woe. But environmental scruples have long been as characteristic of California as budgetary mismanagement, and a battle is brewing. Opponents of the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) technique often used to extract oil and gas from shale rock in “unconventional” drilling say regulations proposed by the state in December do not adequately protect against groundwater contamination or air pollution. Some mutter about earthquakes. Such concerns find receptive ears in a seismically active state with a large farm sector.
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