Marin is pumping for a ban on hydraulic fracturing
You may not have heard of Mainstreet Moms or 350Marin, but you will feel the heat, and soon. The Moms, along with 350.org and its associated nonprofits, are tangling with big oil companies to ban fracking in California.
You don’t know from fracking?
Fracking allows oil companies to free oil from sand and shale far below the earth’s surface by using huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals (often undisclosed), which becomes “dirty water” and virtually unusable again. In a seriously dry agricultural state it’s contentious. It has also become a nationwide and worldwide issue. Britain is in a furor over fracking, according to New York Times op-ed columnist Roger Cohen (Aug. 27).
The state of New York has placed a moratorium on fracking pending research into environmental and health effects, and Marin’s Board of Supervisors recently passed a resolution that endorsed a moratorium in California. That vote two weeks ago set an example for other communities to take a stand, supporters say.
Controversial Senate Bill 4 (SB4) goes to the Assembly appropriations hearing this week. Opponents consider it a weak bill that will do little to stop fracking. They are holding out for a moratorium. Proponents believe it is better than no action. SB4, authored by state Senator Fran Pavley (D, Ventura County), requires oil companies to obtain a permit for fracking and notify nearby property owners in advance. Some environmentalists support it because it would entail a study of fracking’s risks. Organizations like Credo and MoveOn.org want a moratorium.
Although fractivists Christin Anderson, 65, and Lisa Whitaker, 52, of Woodacre, were not among those who started Mainstreet Moms: Organize or Bust (MMOB) in 2004 to get out the vote, they became active when the group moved on to environmental issues like this one.
“The MMOB started as a kitchen table group [in Bolinas], writing personal letters to get out the vote to educate people and encourage them to participate in our democracy,” Whitaker said. Whitaker has a bachelor’s degree in geology and Anderson has a master’s degree in environmental science and one in exercise and health science.
Now a nonprofit with an environmental issue roiling their state, the 40-member Mainstreet Moms has taken on Big Oil to forbid hydraulic fracturing as a way to siphon oil from deep under California soil.
Oil companies are salivating to dig into the Monterey shale deposits (and an estimated 15.4 million barrels of oil) that run at uneven depths from Salinas to Kern County. “There are 10 counties in California where fracking is already going on,” Anderson said, and wastewater dumping could damage valuable aquifers and a large part of the nation’s food supply.
Damage to wildlife has already been measured in Colorado, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, according to research by the Center for Biological Diversity. Fish kills have been associated with the contamination of streams, creeks and wetlands by fracking fluid, the secret fracking formula that each oil company uses.
Added Whitaker, “Our government is not taking the long view. California’s agriculture, water resources and our air are extremely valuable assets that we can’t live without. Fracking will shift the focus away from reducing fossil fuel consumption and moving to renewable energy and allow more CO2, methane, VOC and radiation pollution, keeping us from meeting the GHG reduction goals in AB32 [the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, which aims to bring California’s greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020]. We need to start acting like our children matter,” she said.
“As California residents,” said Anderson, “we need to become aware of where our food comes from and the danger fracking could cause to our Salinas Valley. Some 1,750 square miles of California could be subject to fracking.”
The life of fracking wells by some estimates is only about two years. But, wonder environmentalists, once the wells go dry and the operators abandon them—what happens to the brown fields left behind?
“There is no regulation of fracking because of the ‘Halliburton loophole,'” Anderson said. “When Cheney was vice president he persuaded President Bush to exempt fracking from most environmental regulation. It’s a quick ‘boom and bust’ operation. Get the oil and leave the wells behind.”
Ken Jones, of Greenbrae, a retired family therapist, is leading the Stop Fracking Committee of nonprofit 350Marin, an active group with many other committees, which he helped get started recently with other concerned citizens in the county. He not only opposes fracking, but its horrific sibling: acidizing.
“Oil companies are experimenting with various amounts of hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid in the fracturing fluids, an incredibly toxic combination, to kill any life and eat away at the shale rock with bits of very dirty oil in it. It can break down the steel in the well casings and migrate into the aquifers. Refining this dirty oil here in California and then burning it as gasoline, somewhere, will lead to very serious climate chaos,” he said.
350Marin is one of the originators of the Californians Against Fracking’s “No Fracking Way” movement, which urges its supporters to call Governor Brown’s office every Monday to tell him to ban or place a moratorium on fracking in California—as has been done in New York, Maryland, Vermont and many countries. This is just one of many actions planned to try to get the governor to see that residents and voters do not want big oil to use California to experiment on with these new types of an already terrible, old method of getting to the dirtiest oil on the planet, Jones said.
Marc Levine, the District 10 Assemblyman representing Marin and Sonoma in the state legislature, supports SB4 and says that, if it passes, “outside of states that have a moratorium… this may be the strongest law in the nation to deal with [fracking].”
Levine’s own fracking bill, AB288, which would have required fracking operators to attain “written approval” from the state oil and gas supervisor before any hydraulic fracturing could commence, failed to pass the Assembly in May.
If SB4 gets enough votes to pass in the Legislature, the governor will have until Oct. 15 to sign the bill. Before then he will be hounded by the more than 100 groups in Californians Against Fracking, including Food and Water Watch, Global Exchange, the Center for Biological Diversity, all the 350 Bay Area groups, and, of course, Mainstreet Moms. Representatives of the innovation-oriented nonprofit Bioneers also encourage communities to ban fracking.
Fracking is occurring nationwide, with North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Utah sitting atop particularly alluring underground deposits. Ranchers supplying grass-fed beef to stores like Whole Foods are alarmed because so much of the energy industry’s holdings on private lands are unregulated. Fracking on public land requires scrutiny through the National Environmental Policy Act, and protests and lawsuits are used to hold up drilling, according to an article in the July-August issue of Sierra, the Sierra Club magazine (www.sierraclub.org/habitat).
Internationally, protests are active in Romania and Poland, but San Ramon’s Chevron is hoping fracking will take hold in Russia “to enhance energy security in Europe,” according to a Chevron spokesman.
In California, wastewater dumping could damage valuable aquifers and a large part of the nation’s food supply. Jones is working closely with Food & Water Watch, which tracks the latest local measures against hydraulic fracturing, to prevent or stop it.
As a health educator of sorts, Anderson keeps her Mainstreet Moms focus by wearing a silver necklace shaped like another important natural resource—though this one isn’t a fossil fuel deep within the earth’s crust. The necklace is made into the molecular structure of serotonin, that mystery monoamine neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, sleep, muscle contraction and some cognitive functions. “I don’t take serotonin to keep calm,” she said. “I just like to be reminded of it.”
Sidebar: Revolution 350
Scientists say that 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity. We are now at CO2 400 and rising. (For more on this, visit 350.org.) In addition to fighting fracking, 350.org and Mainstreet Moms are against the Keystone pipeline extension and are trying to free the nation from fossil fuels.
For more information log on to www.350bayarea.org/bay, which has many satellite groups, not only in Marin but in Berkeley, Silicon Valley, Sonoma, San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Also see www.foodandwaterwatch.org. or call (415) 293-9915 in San Francisco, and www.BiologicalDiversity.org.
According to a new analysis conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, when it comes to hydraulic fracturing, Americans are pretty oblivious.
In its report, “Fracking in the American Mind: Americans’ Views on Hydraulic Fracturing in September, 2012,” project officials found that, “surprisingly, American have limited familiarity with this issue, and fewer than half of American adults have developed an opinion in support or in opposition to it.” The minority that has an opinion about fracking is more or less evenly split in support or in opposition to it, says Yale Project Director Anthony Leiserowitz.
Among the report’s “key findings” are:
• Support/opposition to hydraulic fracturing varies by gender, age, political party, geographic region, and familiarity with the issue. In general, respondents who are female, younger, and liberal are more opposed. Those who are male, older, and conservative are more supportive.
• Americans who support hydraulic fracturing associate it with economic and energy supply impacts. Opponents, however, associate it with environmental impacts.