Lauren Steiner: Fracking Threatens California and How to Stop it

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As Big Oil uses unregulated hydraulic fracturing to exploit the vast reserves of California’s Monterey Shale Formation, posing risks to air, water, and climate, the movement to ban the practice grows in the State Legislature. The recent court decision stating the Obama Administration failed to properly assess impacts of fracking in Monterey County only adds to the backlash. See below for how to make your voice be heard.

Big Oil, Stop Fooling CA

Oil wells have long worked the Midway-Sunset oil field in Fellows, Calif., but the deeper Monterey shale formation, largely untapped, holds two-thirds of the nation’s total estimated shale-oil reserves, threatening to unleash a myriad of environmental and climate impacts if allowed to be hydrofracked. Credit: Jim Wilson, New York Times Photos

How You Can Help Ban Fracking in California

By Lauren Steiner

For those worried about hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, coming to California, you might be shocked to find that it is already here. The reason no one knows about this is that there are absolutely no regulations in place.  Nothing has to be disclosed even if they are fracking under your house or next to your child’s school.

The Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the agency funded by the very companies it is in charge of regulating, has finally admitted fracking in going on. In fact, they are fracking right here in the Inglewood oil fields in Baldwin Hills of Los Angeles, the largest urban oil field in the country. Maybe some of you have seen the oil derricks when you drive on La Cienega.

The big news is they have now discovered 15 billion barrels of oil in the Monterey Shale, more than the Marcellus Shale, more than the Bakken Shale, more than anywhere in the country. So unless we the people stop it, fracking is coming to California with a vengeance.

Court Victory for Opponents of Fracking in CA: A federal judge has ruled that the Obama Administration violated the law when it issued oil leases in Monterey County, CA without considering the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing. The ruling came in response to a suit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, challenging a September 2011 decision by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to auction off about 2,500 acres of land in southern Monterey County to oil companies.

fracking, hydrofracturing, California

The Monterey formation in Southern California is partially composed of oil and gas-rich shale plays, areas considered promising for production. As hydraulic fracturing operations expand in the region, the number of wells dotting the landscape may grow to a few thousand from a few hundred. US Dept of Energy Information-California Dept of Conservation in New York Times

As you may know, we have reached peak oil, and energy companies are resorting to the dirtiest, most expensive, most difficult ways of extracting fossil fuels out of the earth. Deep-water off-shore oil drilling, mountain top removal for coal, mining of the dirty tar sands in Canada and shipping it through this country via the Keystone XL Pipeline, and fracking.

The Risks from Hydraulic Fracturing

For those of you who never heard of fracking, it is a process where they inject water, sand and unknown toxic chemicals under high pressure into shale to release natural gas or oil. In Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Dakota, in fact anywhere where they are fracking, these chemicals have been leeching into the air and the ground water.  People and farm animals have been getting sick, and some animals have even died.

That we don’t know exactly what the chemicals are is because of the Halliburton Loophole. After all those secret meetings with energy companies in the White House, former VP Dick Cheney managed to exempt the fracking industry from the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. In certain states where they are fracking, there is a gag order on doctors, so they cannot even tell their patients what is making them sick. This is to protect what are considered trade secrets.  Obviously to the state legislatures that passed these laws, that is more important that public health.

Despite what you’ve heard about natural gas being clean, fracking also contributes to climate change. Although the burning of the gas is clean, the process of fracking releases so much methane into the air, that if all the shale in California is fracked, it will delay the implementation of AB 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. This is the landmark legislation, a model for the country, which requires that California reduce its carbon emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. Fracking the 15 billion barrels of oil in California will add 6.8 million tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere, delaying the implementation of AB 32 by 80 years.

Fracking also intentionally causes mini-earthquakes. That’s how they release the gas or oil from the rock. In Ohio, where they are not known to have earthquakes, they had over 1,000 last year. In a state like ours that is prone to earthquakes and is due for the next Big One, this is not such a smart idea. 6.8 million people live atop the shale formation stretching from Monterey down to Baldwin Hills. In Baldwin Hills, which sits on a fault due for a 7.4 quake, homes and pools have already cracked. And there is a cancer cluster there as well as increased incidences of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Finally, fracking uses a ridiculous amount of water. The amount of water they use to frack one well is the same amount of water used by 100 homes in one year. And folks, if you worry about running out of oil, wait until you see the water shortage that is on the horizon. We can live without oil, but we cannot live without water. Why would we waste it on fracking?

There is a lot more to this madness. You can read Jack Eidt’s articles on the subject here and here.

A Fracking Moratorium?

natural gas hydrofracturingBut there is hope on the horizon. For the past year, environmental non-profit organizations like Food and Water Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Clean Water Action, Environment California, Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community, Breast Cancer Action and CREDO Action have been working to write and find legislators to introduce fracking moratorium bills. Two weeks ago, after much lobbying from these groups and ordinary citizens like you and me, state assembly members Holly Mitchell and Richard Bloom introduced moratorium bills. In a letter to “Fractivist Warriors” Brenna Norton, Food and Water Watch’s Los Angeles organizer, explains how.

“How was this done? It was done by working together. It was done by building people power – city by city, neighborhood block clubs, homeowners associations, and political clubs – we educated and organized and built real people power to combat money power! We got 90K Californians to sign the petition to ban fracking. What does this mean? It means we made it politically costly for politicians not to follow the will of the public.

Let’s take a moment and recall: It is a victory to have these bills even introduced, because a year ago these same bills were laughed at in Sacramento when Food and Water Watch started talking about moratoriums and bans. NO ONE was going to touch them. Your support and activism in the movement has been invaluable. The tide has turned: from the fracking debate only over regulations to making sure Californians are not exposed to an uncontrolled public health experiment.

By April 29th both bills have to pass out of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee or die. We can’t win without you. Pass this action on to all your friends and listservs, LINK HERE - where they can tell their legislators to support the fracking moratorium bills!

Assemblymember Bloom: (310) 450-0041 or email on his contact page. Thank you Assemblymember Bloom for showing leadership and introducing a fracking moratorium bill!

Assemblymember Mitchell: (310) 342-1070 or email on her contact page. Thank you Mitchell for showing leadership and introducing a fracking moratorium bill!

Finally, if you belong to any organizations, it would be great if they could register their support: Here’s a sample endorsement letter (AB 1301 Sample endorsement Letter) organizations can use/modify to register their support for AB 1301 to place an indefinite moratorium on fracking in California. Fax number is on the letter. There is a CC line for including your own Assembly member/Senator to ensure they know your organization supports a moratorium as well. If your organization sends this in, please let me know. (My email is [email protected].) We need to get at least 50 by mid April, so all the endorsements show up when its voted on in committee on the 29th. Critical!”

I hope folks reading this article will not get lazy and think everyone else is going to take this action, so you don’t have to. It is clear that elected officials have become so reliant on campaign contributions to get elected and re-elected, they sometimes forget who it is they are supposed to be working for.

But think about it. What do they do with those contributions? They buy TV ads or produce direct mailers to get your vote. If you let them know in no uncertain terms that they are not going to get your vote unless they start putting people’s interests before corporate interests, then you can make a real difference to the outcome here. I hope all of you make these calls and contact every organization you know to endorse a ban on fracking. Your kids and your grandchildren are counting on you.

Lauren Steiner is an environmental activist based in Los Angeles. Recently she helped plan a local solidarity rally with the DC Forward on Climate event that attracted 1,200 people in LA. With the 101 groups who signed on in support of that rally, she is helping to develop the SoCal Climate Action Coalition to fight the development of coal, tar sands oil, fracking and nuclear power.

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About Guest Columnist

WilderUtopia.com regularly invites professionals, activists, and inspired individuals to publish opinion-editorials that illuminate the challenges to coexistence between city and wild, developed and developing, human and other. If you have a relevant piece to share, let us know at Jack [dot] Eidt [at] WilderUtopia [dot] com.