No water for oil

An article from Oilprice is interesting in light of what looks like a serious revision to the prospects for shale gas production in California:

The California Shale Bubble Just Burst

The great hype surrounding the advent of a shale gas bonanza in California may turn out to be just that: hype. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) – the statistical arm of the Department of Energy – has downgraded its estimate of the total amount of recoverable oil in the Monterey Shale by a whopping 96 percent. Its previous estimate pegged the recoverable resource in California’s shale formation at 13.7 billion barrels but it now only thinks that there are 600 million barrels available.

The estimate is expected to be made public in June.

The sharply downgraded numbers come amid a heated debate in California over whether or not the state should permit oil and gas companies to use hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) – the process in which a combination of water, chemicals and sand are injected underground at high pressure in order to break apart shale rock and access trapped natural gas.

Fracking involves enormous quantities of water; an average of 127,127 gallons of water were required to frack a single California well in 2013, according to the Western States Petroleum Association. That’s equivalent to 87 percent of the water a family of four uses in an entire year.

California is home to an enormous agricultural industry, and with the Monterey Shale located beneath the fertile Central Valley, fracking is going to compete with agriculture, ranching and other commercial and residential users for water use. With 100 percent of California now in a state of “severe” drought, critics of fracking have gained traction in the debate over the extent to which the government should allow oil and gas companies to move in.

Fracking makes sense in some scenarios and makes no sense in others. In light of California’s chronic water shortages, I can’t see that fracking is a good idea there even if the revision is wrong (or fraudulently concocted for political reasons) and the original estimates of recoverable oil turn out to be correct. More energy doesn’t do much good if you can’t grow crops or transport your sewage.