Fracking has been in the news a lot lately. From earthquakes in Ohio to flammable water and possibly even pastel-colored animals, fracking has taken our nation (especially the East Coast) by storm as its problems become more and more evident. Recently, however, the West Coast was rocked by a fracking scandal, when the Environmental Working Group came out with a damning report bringing together years of research to conclude that serious fracking has taken place in at least six California counties: Kern, Los Angeles, Monterey, Sacramento, Santa Barbara and Ventura.
Since California lies along the San Adreas Fault and has a history of earthquakes, the idea of fracking here is scary. As a California resident, I have always known about the possibility of earthquakes. In elementary school, we had drills two or three times a year, squishing under our desks or fidgeting in the hot sun outside as we waited for the all-clear bell. By fourth grade, everyone could define “San Andreas,” and we all knew what to do during an earthquake: crouch under a desk or table, stay away from windows and shelves, clasp your hands over your neck; if you’re outside, find the lowest spot you can away from trees, buildings or electrical poles.
When small quakes struck, we prided ourselves in telling our parents, many of whom had grown up somewhere else, what to do, and we retold the stories of our good safety habits for days afterward. Everyone who’s grown up in California knows about earthquakes and understands their dangers.
Although there have been no major quakes to test our skills since the San Francisco earthquake in 1989, experts have been predicting the next “big one” for years, citing stress buildup in the San Andreas and warning residents to prepare. Considering this, the prospect of fracking in California seems very misguided. While there have been no ill effects so far, a welcome sign, we know very little about what methods or chemicals are being used or how they may change in the future, and what impacts they could be having.
The reason we know so little, as AlterNet reports, is that California’s government, instead of taking action on fracking, is simply ignoring the problem. A Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) spokesperson said that his organization “doesn’t have regulations” for fracking or any information about it, either in the San Joaquin-Sacramento delta area or offshore near Long Beach and Santa Barbara. Since I live near those areas (and in a house built in the 1930s), the idea that my elected officials are ignoring fracking upsets me, especially since I hadn’t thought I needed to worry — California governor Jerry Brown has a great environmental record. Then again, considering President Obama’s fracking policies, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that even an environmentalist Democrat has fallen under fracking’s spell.
Last but not least among the concerns is something which will have a unique effect on my region: the water required for fracking. Southern California is a natural desert, and our tap water is either groundwater or imported — from the Colorado River, northern California, and Owens Valley — at a steep price for taxpayers ($49 million in 2010 for just one aqueduct, and expected to rise 80% over the next decade) and the environment (the Colorado, for example, has been tapped so much that it no longer even makes it to the ocean).
Conservation is a big part of our lives here, emphasized even more heavily than earthquake safety in schools, and stringent measures have been put into place to reduce water use, such as toilet to tap programs and restrictions on watering. The idea that all the water my family and I have carefully saved has been given to an industry that wastes thousands (or millions) of gallons on a single well horrifies and annoys me. What’s the point in trying to conserve if it’s just going to be given to the drilling companies?
Even if you’re not a California resident, this discovery should still concern you. Luckily, some people are taking action to stop fracking in California. The Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club are suing the Bureau of Land Management to prevent it from fracking on “environmentally sensitive” federal lands.
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