A huge report was published on Oct. 10 by Los Angeles County that'll likely open the floodgates for hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") for unconventional oil and gas in the Monterey Shale basin. The report, as it turns out, was done by LA County in name only.
As the Los Angeles Times explained, the study found "no harm from the method" of fracking as it pertains to extracting shale gas and oil from the Inglewood Oil Field, which the Times explains is "the largest urban oil field in the country."
In the opening paragraphs of his article, Ruben Vives of the Times wrote,
A long-awaited study released Wednesday says the controversial oil extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, would not harm the environment if used at the Inglewood Oil Field in the Baldwin Hills area.
The yearlong study included several issues raised by residents living around the field, such as the potential risks for groundwater contamination, air pollution and increased seismic activity.
It's not until the middle of the story that Vives says the study wasn't done by LA County itself, but rather what he describes as a "consulting firm that conducted the study" by the name of Cardno Entrix.
Cardno Entrix isn't any ordinary "consulting firm."
It's the third party contractor that conducted the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), ran the public hearings and made the website all on behalf of the Obama State Department's review process for the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Cardno Entrix, in turn, was hired by TransCanada to do the EIS, a conflict-of-interest blatant enough that it's yielded an ongoing Office of the Inspector General investigation of State's entire review process.
Study By and For Gas Industry, Connected to SUNY Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute
Though published under the auspices of LA County, the study wasn't even paid for by the County at all. Rather, as Vives explained in his Times article, the oil and gas industry paid for the entire enchilada:
Plains Exploration and Production Co., the owner and operator of the oil field, paid for the review as part of a settlement agreement with Culver City and environmental and community groups. The report was reviewed by two independent firms selected by the company and Los Angeles County.
Vives never identified the "independent firms" serving as the peer reviewers, but the study itself, which contains the five-page peer review paper, reveals two reviewers: JP Martin Energy Strategy LLC and Peter Muller.
JP Martin Energy Strategy is a consulting firm run by John Martin. Martin also serves as Director of the increasingly controversial SUNY Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI). He is credited with publishing "the initial research on the natural gas potential of New York's Utica Shale that helped stimulate significant industry investment in this resource," according to the biographical sketch on his consulting firm's website.
Muller formerly served as a Senior Geologist for Alpha Geoscience, where from Jan. 2010-March 2012, he researched "shale gas development issues" including "flowback treatment, stray gas, [and] permitting," according to his LinkedIn page. He now serves in a consulting capcity for various hydraulic fracturing projects for the shale gas industry.
Miller and Muller closed their five-page peer review paper by writing, "Upon review, we both feel, based on information provided us and our own experience, that the report is adequate, complete and accurate and reflected thoughtful consideration for our comments and suggestions."
This situation parallels what DeSmog wrote about in our first ever article on the SRSI, as the "peer review" panel for its first ever study had four out of five members on the payroll of the oil and gas industry.
Stars Aligning for Shale Gas Industry's California Dreamin'
Concerned that the Inglewood study was conducted by and for the shale gas industry, Damon Nagami of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote, "we need additional review from independent experts who have no financial stake in the study’s outcome." But the recent history of the Keystone XL pipeline review process shows that's highly unlikely.
The stars, it seems, are aligning quickly in the City of Angels for the oil and gas industry, with "this area...quietly becoming the hottest potential investment in the West," according to an August 2011 story in San Luis Obispo's New Times, which reported that the Monterey Shale has upwards of 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil.
It's "California Dreamin'" for the oil and gas industry in the Monterey Shale. Will that mean a "California Nightmare" for everyone else?
Update: In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Paul Ferrazzi, Co-Founder of Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community, stated the following:
"Unfortunately, given the Settlement Agreement terms acceptable to all parties involved and the history of the implementation of the agreement by both the County and PXP one could only assume the results would be favorable to the oil operator and industry. We wish we could have some confidence in this study but given the study preparing company's as well as the peer reviewer's direct advocacy for the industry we do not feel it was adequately conducted, properly reviewed, or that the public should take comfort in the conclusions of the study.
If anything, this study raises more questions than it answers. The public should be able to ask for clarification and further support for the authors' contentions. CCSC urges the County to use the study as a starting point for further discussion, and allow public participation and informative responses to test the validity, assumptions and conclusions of the study."