Kern County Fracking

Kevin Palma
December 17, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Cartoon diagram of shale gas deposit, showing horizontal well. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Kern County lies in the Central Valley of California. This area is largely known producing agricultural products and oil. Prior to the first oil well being struck, the locals knew of the fortune underneath the land based on the local Native American tribe. The Yokuts would use the asphaltum from pits as a sealant. The asphaltum was used mostly on canoes and baskets. The first oil well was struck in 1899, this brought many oil corporations to Kern County seeking fortune. Today Kern County, if counted as a separate state, would be a top 5 oil producer for the United States. Kern County produces 75% of California's petroleum and 50% natural gas. In 2015, the Kern County government approved the large oil corporation's request for a different method of extraction. This new method is fracking, and the method poses a risk to all Kern County residents.

What is Fracking?

Fracking refers to process of extracting gas or oil from shale rock. As you can see from Fig. 1, there are multiple materials and distances one would have to drill in order to reach various gas and oil pits. The fracking process begins with drilling into the earth and releasing a high pressure mixture of water (90%), sand and chemicals (9%) are injected into the shale rock. By injecting the rock, oil and gas are then released to flow back out the head of the well. Typically this process is used by drilling horizontally through rock, this creates a variety of pathways and channels to release the oil or gas. This method allows the drillers to access the hard to reach resources beneath the ground. The term fracking itself, comes from the fracturing of the rock by the high pressure mixture. [1]

Why Is It Bad For Kern County?

Currently, California is in a state of emergency because of a state wide drought. The fracking process requires a large amount of water to be transported to the drilling site. For any given site the amount of water needed to extract the resources can range from 100,000 gallons to 1.5 million gallons. [1] This water is something that California can't necessarily afford to waste and certainly should be interested in optimizing. Fracking also is a threat to groundwater contamination in nearby water sources. There are potentially carcinogenic chemicals used in the fracking mixture, some environmentalists say that these chemicals are able to escape into water sources near the fracking site. Looking back to Fig. 1, it seems extremely possible with a layer of aquifers between your well and resource. Another factor to consider is what to do with the waste water. This mixture will need to be transported and dealt with as well. Although most oil corporations that use fracking would argue against this process being dangerous, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found evidence of contaminated groundwater in multiple fracking drilling operations.


Fracking is a method of oil and gas extraction that allows company to retrieve more of the resource. Unfortunately, this extraction comes at steep and risky cost. The amount of water needed to extract resources seem quite excessive considering California's drought. The water used through this process can be utilized in agriculture or another major industry. There is also a threat to groundwater contamination which would also be a considerable loss for the California water supply. The original methods of extraction might not bring about the same yield, but there is no large threat or waste of California's water crisis.

© Kevin Palma. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] R. Sharp and B. Allayaud, "California Regulators: See No Fracking, Speak No Fracking," Environmental Working Group, 29 Feb 12.