Fracking in the Nation's Vegetable Patch

The farmland sitting on top of the shale is known for producing raisins, nuts, fruits, vegetables and cotton. Given Calilfornia’s rich oil history, oil and agriculture interests have co-existed for a long time, but fracking could pit the two against each other. The San Francisco bureau chief for The New York Times, Norimitsu Onishi, recently spoke with many of the stakeholders in the state and painted a now familiar portrait of the various interest groups and those that could be directly affected should something go wrong in the fracking process. 

Unfortunately, he found that something already has gone wrong. An oil production company discharged 6 to 10 barrels of fracking liquids, equal to 252-420 gallons, into an unlined pit near an almond orchard. The oil company also reportedly violated regulations through the disposal of hundreds of thousands of gallons of produced liquids that contained high levels of salts. While the incident is still under investigation, Doug Patteson, an engineer with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, told Onishi, “If groundwater were impacted from anything, I think it would be from that, and maybe these 6 to 10 barrels of fracking fluids certainly didn’t help.”

Under California’s central valley lies a vast field of shale oil that’s ready to be exploited thanks to the hotly debated oil and gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Known as the Monterey Shale Formation, the unconventional oilfield lies underneath the lower half of the San Joaquin Valley. With fracking technology available to tap into its resources, it now it makes up two-thirds of the US’s shale oil reserves.  That fact alone would startle most environmentalists, but it also runs underneath the nation’s most diverse and productive farmland. 

This may just be the tip of the iceberg with fracking in California. While producing a lot of unconventional oil and gas may boost the economy, without the proper regulations and oversight, fracking could do a lot of harm to the state’s farmland.