Standing in front of her Inglewood home, Geneva Morgan points to the dramatic cracks in her driveway, house and street and declares to a camera, “The truth is that when they frack, they go underneath our houses.” Standing in front of the neighboring Inglewood Oil field, she turns straight to the camera and asks, “The governor that I voted for, why is he not doing anything? We wanted you to help us, and you turned your back.”
She is not alone. Don Martin, resident of West Adams, logically connects his granddaughter’s life-threatening Hodgkin’s lymphoma to the toxic fumes to which his community is constantly subjected by the hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — site next door. “They want to keep us out, but do they keep their chemicals in?”
The word “fracking” has become a part of the modern American vernacular in unanticipated ways.
Some associate this method of oil and gas extraction as possibly leading to contaminated groundwater, increased climate-disrupting carbon emissions and a trigger for earthquakes. Others see it as a route to energy independence from foreign sources, a stimulant for the economy and a way to drive down gasoline prices. Yet in the face of one of the most severe droughts on record, more people are realizing that fracking does not make sense in California.
In response to the record-breaking drought, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency and directed state officials to address impending water shortages. Yet millions of gallons of water are being used on average at each of the thousands of fracking sites in our state. The fracking wastewater is then often dumped into pits that are dug into the ground, which further exposes groundwater to the chemical-laden and sometimes radioactive mixture. In October 2014, it was revealed that over 3-billion gallons of fracking wastewater had contaminated some protected California aquifers in the Central Valley. If not stored in above-ground pits, the volatile liquid is frequently sent to sewage treatment plants, which are often ill-equipped to deal with these chemicals. Hydraulic fracturing wastes precious water that remains in California and endangers groundwater resources that are vital during droughts, threatening the health of thousands of Californians.
Brown, who promises to tackle climate change and address the drought, turned his back on the science presented to him. He continues to allow this scarcely regulated practice in our state, which has been exempt from the Clean Water Act nationwide since 2005.
Californians are currently living with the snowballing impacts of fracking: air pollution, water pollution, spills and leakages, worker accidents, truck traffic, surges of transient workers, skyrocketing prices for affordable housing and more. Californians, however, are not silent about this assault on our state. The unified efforts of almost 200 organizations that constitute the Californians Against Fracking coalition have brought a white-hot spotlight on this pressing issue. Affected communities and concerned citizens are rising together to banish the irresponsible practice of hydraulic fracturing throughout California.
In the November 2014 elections, San Benito and Mendocino counties approved the placement of a ban on fracking, resulting from more than 57 percent of voter support. Local coalitions, including San Benito Rising and the Coalition to Protect San Benito, worked to pass the measure with grassroots efforts and the compilation of more than 4,000 signatures. Despite the success there, oil corporations swayed Santa Barbara’s vote on a similar measure, resulting in a total of 63 percent of voters against the ban on fracking. It has been reported that local oil corporations “threatened lawsuits against Santa Barbara County if Measure P succeeded.”
Locally, Students Against Fracking on campus organizes petition drives, rallies and teach-ins to address the detrimental impacts of fracking. Students across California spent the past year working with environmental nongovernmental organizations — such as Food and Water Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club — to organize against extreme oil and gas extraction. The youth of today are at greatest stake, standing to either benefit or pay for the choices made now that will shape the future. Consequently, the power to change lies in the hands of students.
In March 2014, thousands of Californians gathered in Sacramento, calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, and in February, thousands more will be gathering in Oakland to demand real climate leadership from our governor. The March for Real Climate Leadership will take place in Oakland on Feb. 7, at 11:30 a.m. at Oscar Grant Plaza. It will be the largest anti-fracking demonstration in the history of California, and it is key to pressuring the governor to truly represent the interests of his fellow Californians.
Fracking has become one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. But the fight has just begun. We have seen steps of progression in New York’s government, and now it’s time for Californians to rise up. It’s time we champion safety over profits. It’s time we create a habitable environment for the future. And it’s time we ban fracking — now.
Jacob Elsanadi, Kristy Drutman and Eva Malis are UC Berkeley students and members of Students Against Fracking at UC Berkeley.