Fracking, Wetlands, and Salt Ponds

What’s up WT! It’s Molly this time, I’ve been journaling but haven’t written too much in the blog yet….. but here it goes!

I had a quick start to the day, had to get myself together by 10am to get across the bridge and into Richmond for the San Fran Estuary Institute (SFEI). This was the first time Lily and I split up, so I’m pretty proud to say I didn’t get lost or die. At SFEI, I met Micha Salomon, who works on their Resilient Landscapes Project. Before I could ask too many questions, we were rushed into a conference room to hear a guest speaker from PSE Healthy Energy talk about fracking in California. The talk was about the public heath risks of oil extraction. In California, hydraulic fracking only makes up 20% of the oil extraction, the other 80% is mostly a method called Enhanced Oil Recovery Water Flooding. Water flooding doesn’t drill as deep as fracking drills, but the CO2 intensity ratings are much higher nonetheless. Water flooding is used for heavier oil and tar. It starts by drilling until oil is reached (but not as far down as a source rock), and then steam is injected to heat the tar and make it more viscous so that it can be extracted. This process is more CO2 intensive because of the large amounts of steam being created. It was interesting to learn about types of oil extraction that are considered more dangerous than fracking. There have also been ZERO studies so far (besides the one we were learning about) in California on the public health outcomes of oil extraction facilities. This study was relatively inconclusive because of the lack of information given by oil companies about the chemicals being released (not surprising:/). Since the scientists were unable to gather information about them chemicals being released, they focused on creating an index of the communities within two miles of the facilities. In LA especially, there are large populations within even 100meteres of these plants, including five daycare facilities, which are supposed to have special zoning regulations about proximity to dangerous substances. Besides looking at potential effects of these chemicals on the surrounding communities, Seth from PSE also looked at outcomes of water recycling. Again, without identification of these chemicals, it would be impossible to draw any conclusions on how the water is affected. However, Seth pointed out that the water irrigating those Cutie Clementines could very well be contaminated thanks to weak water recycling regulations in California.

After the conference, I got a tour of the facilities and an overview of their current projects at SFEI. Micha showed me how they use infrared data on GIS maps to identify wetlands and assess their health. The Resilient Landscape project uses the data they collect alongside historical maps and sounding data to draw conclusions about the evolution of streams and wetlands in the San Francisco area. These conclusions help inform conservation and re-vitalization projects on the natural patterns of the area, which are becoming harder and harder to predict as climate change disturbs natural environmental patterns. He also talked me through their efforts to restore salt ponds to natural landscapes. The salt ponds (below) have been left from the massive salt industry influx in the early 1900’s. They would dam areas, wait for them to evaporate, and then harvest leftover salt from the bottom for processing. These abandoned salt ponds have such high salinity levels that restoring them to natural marshland has been difficult. The dams have to be broken in a way that slowly introduces more water with balanced levels of sediment so that the salinity doesn’t increase to levels unsustainable for the surrounding ecosystems. After my time at SFEI was up, I walked back to the train and returned home to Lily!


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