What could possibly go wrong?

Drilling on the San Andreas Fault?

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.

Ayn Rand is for children

As I think Matt Groening has already illustrated.

But I digress. This, from David Sirota:

Since I first met Objectivists (read: libertarians) in college, my Unified Theory of Rand Groupies posited that they all probably fit into at least one of three groups: those who 1) never grew out of the usual “the world is persecuting me and doesn’t see my true genius” phase that momentarily afflicts the typical high schooler 2) think saying “Ayn Rand” in any context makes them sound intelligent, even though they’ve never actually read her work or 3) have read Rand’s work, don’t genuinely believe in her ideology as evidenced by their lifestyle/politics, but still say they love her because it serves to make them feel good about their own avarice.

Out of these three groups, the third is probably the most prominent in this, the era defined by the politics of “makers versus takers.” After all, these folks purport to adore the free-market triumphalism of “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” haughtily imagine themselves as rugged up-from-the-bootstraps individualists like Howard Roark and John Galt, tell themselves that their greed is patriotic, and thus demonize government and taxation. Yet, most of these same people tend to live their lives in ways that belie their personal mythology.

Typically, they are more than happy to (among other things) drive on taxpayer funded roads; to have their assets defended by government agents (aka police and firefighters); to have their property rights protected by a law enforcement collective known as the judiciary; and to pocket their share of handouts. Some alleged Randian individualists are even willing to decry the social safety net for others but not for themselves, and still others are happy to to vote in Congress for the epitome of what Randianism stands against.

That said, after reading the following nugget from this terrific New York Times writeup of literary giant George Saunders, I discovered a critical hole in my theory (emphasis added):

After he graduated from the School of Mines, Saunders went to work for an oil-exploration company in the jungles of Sumatra…They worked four weeks on and two weeks off and in the down time would be shuttled in helicopters to the nearest city, 40 minutes away, and then from there fly to Singapore.

“I’d been kind of an Ayn Rand guy before that,” he said. “And then you go to Asia and you see people who are genuinely poor and genuinely suffering and hadn’t gotten there by whining.” While on a break in Singapore, walking back to his hotel in the middle of the night, he stopped by an excavation site and “saw these shadows scuttling around in the hole. And then I realized the shadows were old women, working the night shift. Oh, I thought, Ayn Rand doesn’t quite account for this.”

As Saunders’ personal story suggests, my theory about Randists fails in not accounting for the fourth and arguably biggest subgroup of all: those who have never visited the developing world. And when I say “developing world” I’m not talking Tom Friedman-ese by referring to walled off resorts in banana republics or big, wealthy cosmopolitan cities isolated from their otherwise dirt poor nations. I’m referring to the actual dirt poor places outside those resorts and cities where the Tom Friedmans and Rand groupies probably never visit.

Fracking the Amish

Really interesting story:

It’s tempting to think of the Amish as low-carbon innocents, the last people on earth who would knowingly invite oil and gas companies to intrude upon the land that sustains them. And the sight of wooden buggies parked near chemical tankers does spark some cognitive dissonance (as does learning that some Amish feel animosity toward energy companies only because they settled for $3 an acre, instead of $3,000).

But “the Amish are capitalists,” says Erik Wesner, a former scholar of Anabaptism who founded the website Amish America, which examines Amish culture and communities across North America. They’re astute businesspeople, Wesner continues, and “they make individual decisions, so long as they don’t go against their Ordnung,” or rules and standards.

Besides, the Amish have to pay taxes like anyone else, and farming has never been lucrative. They say the wells, as presented by the gas companies, seemed innocuous. According to Hahn, the technological isolation of the Amish can make them easy marks: “They don’t have televisions or the Internet, so they can’t learn about fracking or even see if the landmen are lying when they say their neighbors have leased and that they could make a lot of money.”

Landmen even brandish maps, Hahn adds, with plots falsely marked as leased. Dubransky says that landmen tried fooling him, as well. “I had a kid tell me I’d have more protection [against other drillers] if I signed a lease than if I didn’t,” he says, incredulous. (Pennsylvania law doesn’t allow energy companies to drill under non-leased property, so by not signing a lease, Dubransky kept his land protected.)

With other concerned community members, including Matteo, Hahn last year formed the Fracking Truth Alliance of Lawrence and Mercer Counties, which hosts forums to raise awareness about oil and gas development. Amish men have come to several of these, Hahn says. The group fought, unsuccessfully, to prevent the Wilmington Area School Board from leasing district-owned land to an energy company. And it’s currently trying to raise money to help Amish families test their water before deeper drilling and fracking begin. Without such baseline data on pre-drilling conditions, it’s impossible to win a lawsuit should water later become polluted.

“It costs $1,200 for a Tier 3 test, which is the broadest spectrum,” Hahn says. “But many of these families live below the poverty level.” (The Penn State Cooperative Extension Service recommends twice-a-year testing for the next 30 years if there is drilling and fracking activity near your house to monitor any potential pollution. Pricing may vary.)

The Amish worry about water quality for themselves, for their livestock and their gardens; they also worry about heavy traffic, which could shatter the carefully cultivated tranquility of their daily rhythms. There are reports, in other fracked counties, of well-servicing trucks running horses and buggies off the road. In Wisconsin, an Amish family is fighting a rail yard that will wash and load fracking sand, on the grounds that the noise and traffic may prevent them from practicing their religion. Constitutional issues aside, their legal action is noteworthy because the Amish way is to resist quietly, if at all.

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