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California | Central Valley | Education & Student Activism

Fracking, another wrong turn on the road to sustainability
by Melissa Mullins
Tuesday Nov 19th, 2013 3:49 PM
The anti-fracking movement is gaining momentum, thanks to documentaries and numerous University studies warning against the toxic chemicals used in the practice. My article urges Californians to join the fight against fracking, and to put pressure on Governor Brown into passing a moratorium. With midterm elections coming up next year, we have the opportunity to get our voice heard, and to elect someone that will represent what we want-- a future powered by clean, renewable energy.
Fracking, another wrong turn to Sustainability by Melissa Mullins,
In the book, Earth’s Natural Resources, author John Walther illustrates humanity’s profound intellectual capacities through highlighting our knowledge of the natural world by scientific inquiry and the development of technologies which allow for the exploitation of natural resources. With this capacity, we are able to predict the implications of using such practices and make choices accordingly.
One such practice Walther describes is hydrofracturing, or more commonly known as fracking. This is the practice of extracting natural gas or crude oil by injecting underground rock formations (shale) with a fluid infused with chemicals and sand. Pressure builds in the well causing the rock to microfracture, allowing the fluid to flow more easily to the surface. Fracking has been used commercially for over 60 years, but with new technologies the production of natural gas and crude oil has expanded over the last few years (Wather). When compared to burning coal, natural gas when burned releases less carbon dioxide than and other pollutants, but has the potential to cause environmental contamination, and since there are elected officials both for and against the practice, it is both a political and a human rights issue. The potential risks of fracking include: global warming, air pollution, contamination of drinking water, and the vast quantities of wastewater produced that is ultimately impossible to treat. Aside from the
potential risks listed above, The Center for Biological Diversity has reported that fracking can induce small earthquakes. As author Michael Collier points out in The Land in Motion: California’s San Andreas Fault, California is home to the world’s most famous and active tectonic boundaries. When the potential contamination risks are combined with the risks of inducing earthquakes, there is more then enough reason to take strong precautionary measures. Governor Jerry Brown must be pressured into passing a moratorium on hydraulic fracking to guarantee public health and safety, protect the environment, and to mitigate the effects on climate change.
Fracking for natural gas and/or crude oil can release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere or underground aquifers causing both health concerns as well as environmental damage. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) methane, when released into the atmosphere has a shorter lifetime than carbon dioxide (CO2). However, the EPA also reports, that methane “is more efficient in trapping radiation than CO2 pound for pound. The comparative impact of methane on climate change is over 20 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period”. There is no doubt among scientist and researchers that burning
Fossil fuels is directly contributing to global warming. In the 2007 article, The Effects of Global Warming, by National Geographic stated that, “sea levels, are expected to rise 7 to 23 inches by the end of the century… hurricanes and other storms are likely to become stronger…species that depend on one another may become out of sync [and] floods and droughts will become more common.” Similarly, The Center for Biological Diversity states that “more than a third of the Earth’s animal and plant species will face extinction by 2050” if we continue at our current greenhouse gas emissions trajectory.
With the challenges we face, it is not only our duty, but our personal responsibility to protect our home from further degradation and to attempt to remedy the unprecedented amount of harm our actions have caused. For instance, dead zones, the result of using pesticides, fertilizers, and chemicals, which drain into oceans and lakes depleting the waters oxygen levels to the point where marine life can no longer be sustained. Much like dead zones, massive oil spills, not only kill marine life, but significantly impact fishermen’s livelihood and the communities that depend on those resources for food. A total reform is needed and much overdue for ensuring the health of the environment and public. If we do not stand up against harmful practices more communities will suffer from deprivation.
The New York, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently added the report,
Update to Hydraulic Fracturing on their online database, listing and warning against 12 chemicals used in the drilling, or found in the brine drawn out of the well, that are recognized by most physicians as highly toxic substances. It is believed that anywhere from 600-1000 chemicals are used in the process as well as 5 million gallons of water for just one drilling operation. The chemicals can leak from various points of extraction or are brought back up to the surface with flow back fluid- all which can lead to the contamination of underground aquifers and drinking water. In the report, noted authors Shelia Bushkin-Bedient MD, MPH, and Geoffrey Moore, express the concerns of the dangers presented to us in the following passage:
The chemically complex world in which we live today continually exposes us to an
abundance of industrial toxins that are in our food, water and air supply. All of us carry
an unknown burden of environmental contaminants that affect our health, including
unborn fetuses. Many toxins cross the placenta, and newborns today are born with at
least 200 to 300 chemical contaminants in their cord blood, and in meconium, amniotic
fluid, placenta or in their mother’s breast milk. Furthermore, mixtures of different
chemicals can act synergistically to potentiate adverse developmental effects and many
serious chronic diseases including cancer, later on in life. These alarming facts caution
us to pursue greater awareness and wiser, more carefully regulated approaches to future
industrial endeavors such as hydrofracking.
Thanks to research and documentaries like Gasland, which focused on communities impacted by hydraulic fracturing, citizens around the world are joining the fight against fracking. Here in Humboldt County, the awareness of this harmful practice is growing because of outreach and educational efforts by local environmental groups. Several of these groups recently came together at Humboldt State University to host the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC) 2013 Fall Convergence on November 9th and 10th . The two day long convergence offered workshops, panels, keynotes, and networking all related to sustainability. Eric Recchia is a member of several local environmental and student groups and also sits on the Board of Directors of the CSSC. The CSSC is a member of the Californians Against Fracking coalition, and Eric has been working with the CSSC and other members of CAF to fight fracking in California. During this time, there were about a hundred bills on regulating fracking in circulation. The regulatory bill, approved and signed by Senator Fran Pavley, had many environmentalists shaking their heads in disapproval. That Senate Bill 4, a regulatory bill, started off as a fairly strong but with about 24 hours of it being signed, 4 amendments were added weakening the bill. Regulations alone can lead to accidents; it doesn’t require the companies to conduct environmental impact studies, and it allows fracking to be done in CA without any regulations until 2015 while the bill is being developed” -when bill is being developed”. Califonians should shift their attention then to Governor Jerry Brown. With midterm elections coming up next year, it opens up a platform to speak out against fracking. Bird dogging the Governor and other representatives will bring awareness to the public and express to elected officials that we want our future powered by renewable clean energy, not polluting fossil fuels. Eric concluded my interview with a few steps we can take right now that can help a strengthen the anti-fracking movement: by combining efforts with neighbors and local organizations against fracking, writing elective officials, signing petitions, and protesting peacefully, but fiercely, we can push Brown into signing a moratorium.
Several states and counties have successfully passed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, however, CA has the largest shale reservoirs in the nation, the Monterey Shale, making it a prime location. Though there is mounting evidence on the dangers it poses, supporters continue to promote it as an innovative, and highly productive energy source. President Obama, declared in his speech on climate change, the three main reasons why he believes fracking is the right technology for our Country:
The bottom line is natural gas is creating jobs. Its lowering many families heat and power bills. And it’s the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the technology required for the even cleaner energy economy in the future.
However, with a final analysis of Obama’s speech, it seems that he contradicts himself. In the statement above, he elludes that this technology is cleaner, but in reality, it is still a contributor to climate change for it is a fossil fuel. The statement that contradicts, (present below) reveals Obama’s knowledge of the significant implications of climate change on our Earth and that it will take “courage to act before it’s too late”:
The potential impacts [climate change] go beyond rising sea levels. Here at home, 2012 was the warmest year in our history…we know that the costs of these events [natural disasters] can be measured in lost lives and lost livelihoods, lost homes, lost businesses, hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief. In fact, those who are already feeling the effects of climate change don’t have time to deny it…the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren.



I think Californians have the courage to stand up against this dangerous technology. Through actively participating in our so called democracy, we can put a stop to this dangerous technology. I urge Californians to join the fight against fracking. Because our elected officials continue to lack the foresight needed to protect our beautiful planet, and take pursue precautionary measures we must pressure Governor Brown into passing a moratorium. With midterm elections coming up next year, we have the opportunity to get our voice heard, and to elect someone that will represent what we want-- a future powered by clean, renewable energy. We need to use our voice to combat corporations strategical ability of using their money as speech. We the people, the 99%, must use our right to speak up against harmful practices. Not only to combat corporations strategically using their money as speech, but because it is our birth right and responsibility to speak up against practices that do not benefit humanity as a whole. By getting organized, we too can push our leaders to represent what we want- A future powered by renewable, clean energy that allows us to live in harmony within our communities and with surrounding ecosystems.