California Institute for Water Resources
California Institute for Water Resources
California Institute for Water Resources
University of California
California Institute for Water Resources

Regulating the social and environmental costs of hydraulic fracturing in California

Summary:

California’s Monterey and Santos shale, two underground formations located in the San Joaquin and Los Angeles basins, respectively, collectively cover 1,750 square miles and contain approximately 13.7 billion barrels of oil, more than 50% of the nation’s total estimated recoverable resources (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2013). While this extensive resource has the potential to provide substantial benefits, expanded development of unconventional oil and gas production could require dramatic changes in the quantity and quality of water available for other uses in California. Through a synthesis review and interviews with key communities, our research will improve our understanding of the potential impacts that shale oil and gas development will have on California water users and the environment. 

Investigator:

Brent Haddad
Professor, Department of Environmental Studies
UC Santa Cruz

Project description:

California’s Monterey and Santos shale, two underground formations located in the San Joaquin and Los Angeles basins, respectively, collectively cover 1,750 square miles and contain approximately 13.7 billion barrels of oil, more than 50% of the nation’s total estimated recoverable resources. While this extensive resource has the potential to provide substantial benefits, expanded development of unconventional oil and gas production could require dramatic changes in the quantity and quality of water available for other uses in California.

We are synthesizing the institutional and socioeconomic effects of expanded development of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), with particular attention to changes in water resource use and the unique characteristics of water demands in California. To review how various scientific communities are studying the impacts of fracking to water resources management and protected species, we are conducting a content analysis of relevant scientific articles. This interdisciplinary review will reveal the primary mechanisms by which stakeholders in California are likely to be impacted by fracking, and the specific links between fracking and impacts to protected fish species, water use in the agricultural sector, the spatial distribution of water use, and water quality in the state.

We are also conducting interviews with scientists and policymakers in state and federal institutions that are likely to be engaged in scientific and public policy discussions regarding fracking in California. Interviews are designed to identify government agencies and stakeholders that are engaged in the development of policies for regulating fracking, and obstacles and institutional barriers that these actors are likely to encounter when attempting to fit their environmental, economic and political agendas into the development of policies designed to regulate fracking in California, and assess the extent to which existing policies and regulation within their respective agency can be applied to water management issues related to fracking.

This project is assessing: potential impacts from expanded use of fracking in California on water resource users, legal and institutional mechanisms that currently exist to identify, regulate, and mitigate those impacts and possible future government and community action to balance the needs of the environment, existing water users, and the energy development sector. Current literature does not address aspects of water use that are important to California. Our review will focus and synthesize these important gaps including: the effect of fracking on protected fish habitat, constraints on water availability for alternative uses such as agriculture, possible water source substitution that may affect patterns of water use in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and water quality impacts of fracking.

Our research will improve our understanding of the potential impacts that shale oil and gas development will have on California water users and the environment. We will provide a detailed assessment of the legal and institutional framework by which fracking is likely to be regulated. This project will benefit policymakers, environmental interests and economic stakeholders, by establishing linkages between fracking and impacts to water resources in California, providing critical information for decision-making and policy development.

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