Though Alameda County’s decision to ban fracking last month was largely symbolic, it represents a crucial step in a fight to rid California of a destructive oil drilling method that affects thousands of state residents.
Alameda became the first county in the Bay Area to ban fracking, the process of releasing gas and oil from underground reservoirs by injecting a mixture of water, sand and hundreds of chemicals into the earth.
E&B Natural Resources, the only oil generator in the county, doesn’t actually use fracking in Alameda. But that doesn’t mean Alameda’s environmental stance is insignificant, especially considering mounting concerns about the way oil drilling techniques are diminishing the quality of life for many in California.
Approximately 5.4 million people in the state — or 14 percent of the population — lives within a mile of at least one oil or gas well, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council report.
In Kern County, one of the state’s most heavily drilled areas, Latino and Black residents are more likely to bear the adverse effects of air pollution, living in areas near oil and gas wells.
Across the nation, from Texas to Pennsylvania, fracking has disproportionately negative effects on minority and lower-income households sitting near fracking wastewater wells — where companies store the runoff of chemical water injected into the ground. The abundance of wastewater deposits continues to grow as improvements in fracking technology spur the discovery of new oil and gas reserves.
For residents living near fracking sites, the health hazards are innumerable. Backwater from drilling sites can contaminate the surface and groundwater supply for nearby regions. And it’s not only water that fracking can affect: It also pollutes the air people breathe and potentially induces respiratory problems, birth defects and cancer.
Researchers have also found that fracking has been linked to increased frequency of earthquakes. For example, increased seismic activity in Dallas, Texas, is thought to be a byproduct of fracking.
It’s clear then that fracking is an industry focused on short-term financial gain at the cost of long-term environmental stability. The practice of fracking serves to reinforce benefits for those who are already at the top of the economic ladder and harm those in communities who are the most vulnerable.
Taking a symbolic stand, however, is much easier than making one that doesn’t gouges into one’s pockets. Last year, the UC system sold about $200 million of direct holdings in coal and oil sands companies. Actions such as these, even when they fall in line with industry trends such as the falling prices of oil, are ultimately more meaningful.
We hope that Alameda County’s stand against fracking will serve to strengthen environmental consciousness in other areas of the Golden State and lead others to take similar stands.