CLOVIS — There’s an oil revolution going on in the U.S., and the San Joaquin Valley wants a piece of the action.
That was the message Tuesday at a well-attended fracking forum hosted by Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno. In the audience were state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar; Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, and more than 200 local residents, including Kings County planning commissioners Riley Jones and R.G. Trapnell.
From the beginning, Patterson and others talked about North American energy independence fueled by new oil drilling technology allowing huge shale oil formations in North Dakota, Texas, Pennsylvania and Canada to be tapped for oil and natural gas. One of the key techniques is horizontal drilling combined with fracking — injecting a pressurized solution into the ground to break up oil trapped in rock.
Tuesday’s discussion focused on developing the huge Monterey shale formation beneath Kings and other Valley counties. A 2011 study commissioned by the U.S. Energy Administration estimated 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the formation, making it the repository of two-thirds of all known shale oil deposits in the U.S.
Exploratory wells have been drilled in Kings County and other Valley areas, fueling speculation of an economic boom that could put a dent in the Valley’s high poverty and unemployment rates. The speculation intensified after two economic studies released earlier this year estimated that the Monterey shale formation could create up to 195,000 Valley jobs and pour billions into California’s economy.
Patterson’s forum aimed to quell concerns about potential contamination of groundwater and global warming fears. He and other speakers cited regulations requiring that wells be sealed off when they cut through aquifers. They repeated the assertion that renewable energy resources only supply 2 percent of global energy demand.
Other speakers highlighted the severe unemployment and poverty problem in the Valley, contrasting it with more affluent and more liberal populations along California’s coastline.
“People in the Valley are in deep trouble,” said Jack Cox, president and founder of The Communications Institute. “I see people struggling. I don’t think we can deny an economic potential that would enrich their lives.”
Jones contrasted the potential of high-paying oil jobs with the growing solar farm industry in Kings County. The industry creates initial installation jobs, but requires few employees once the panels are operational.
“After a year and a half, all you have are the panels,” Jones said. “I think [an oil boom] would certainly have an impact on [local] government by increasing the amount of money available to them.”
But the meeting was not without controversy.
“It’s kind of an open question how much oil we can get out of the shale,” said Gary Lasky, president of Fresnans Against Fracking and a conservation chair for the Sierra Club’s Tehipite Chapter. “The idea of an economic boom is certainly debatable.”
Lasky raised concerns about global warming. He suggested that Californians might need to change their lifestyle to produce less carbon pollution instead of trying to step up oil production.
“Natural gas is here to stay,” responded Brigham McCown, a former federal regulator. “We have more natural gas than Saudi Arabia has oil, and it’s coming out of the ground.”
One man asked Patterson how much campaign money he had received from the oil industry in the last two years.
Patterson said he didn’t appreciate the presumption that he could be “bought.”
Cox ended the forum by asking all factions to band together and support oil development in California.
“We either go back to the Stone Age, or we grow,” said Cox. “The reality is, right now, we need oil.”