California is sitting on a massive amount of shale oil and could become the next oil boom state. But only if the industry can get the stuff out of the ground without upsetting the state’s powerful environmental lobby.
Running from Los Angeles to San Francisco, California’s Monterey Shale is thought to contain more oil than North Dakota’s Bakken and Texas’s Eagle Ford — both scenes of an oil boom that’s created thousands of jobs and boosted U.S. oil production to the highest rate in over a decade.
In fact, the Monterey is thought to hold over 400 billion barrels of oil, according to IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. That’s nearly half the conventional oil in all of Saudi Arabia. The United States consumes about 19 million barrels of oil a day.
“Four hundred billion barrels, that doesn’t escape anyone in this businesses,” said Stephen Trammel, energy research director at IHS.
The trick now is getting it out.
As a result of the San Andres fault, California’s geologic layers are folded like an accordion rather than simply stacked on top of each other like they are in other Shale states. The folds have naturally cracked the shale rock, and much of California’s current “conventional” oil production — the third largest in the nation — is thought to come from the Monterey.
But the folds mean recent advancements that have made shale oil and gas profitable to extract — horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracturing — don’t work as well in California. It’s hard to drill horizontally if the shale is not flat.
Plus, it appears the Monterey is made up of shale rock that doesn’t respond as well to hydraulic fracturing — the controversial practice known as fracking that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into the ground under high pressure to crack the rock and allow the oil and gas to flow.
Still, the U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates there are over 15 billion barrels of oil that can be recovered using today’s technology.