In a state located right on top of a fault line, it's no wonder Californians are so concerned about an industry known to cause earthquakes. Add a three-year drought and a heavy industry that has an unquenchable thirst for fresh water and you have even more anxiety and angst, which oftentimes borders on mayhem - sometimes even bedlam.
In California, hydraulic fracturing (commonly referred to as fracking) has met with much opposition, even antagonism and ambivalence. In America's most populous state, every Californian is interested in this heavy industry. Fracking companies use an enormous amount of water and The Golden State is in a water crisis it's not seen the likes of in more than a half a millennium. And with the average fracking well needing tens of million of gallons of water in its lifetime of operation, residents of the other 49 states shouldn't cast objections as to why many of this state's residents see fracking as a frivolous and unnecessary water drain. And more than likely, hazardous harbingers attached to fracking pose serious threats -- with some problematic scenarios unknown, even unimaginable. Honestly, there isn't any historical perspective in which to judge this relatively new industry. Many Californians don't want a Pandora's Box to be opened. Or worse, a dybbuk box - some nefarious closet harboring demons.
Irrigation needs for California's long-established agricultural industry pose enough of a drain on the state's water supply, even without the water requirements of oil and gas fracking. The setting of many a John Steinbeck novel, California's massive growing farms produce much of this country's produce take. In fact, it's absolutely nutty: 99% of all the almonds grown in this country come from California. And 95% of the country's broccoli, 92% of its strawberries, and 90% of all tomatoes come from California's fields, which utilize complex and colossal irrigation systems to keep the crops green and growing.
As Steinbeck once said, "Man is the only varmint who sets his own trap, baits it, then steps in it." And so goes the politics of fracking on the West coast. For instance, the Butte County Board of Supervisors opted to ban fracking in their county by a 4-1 vote on April 10. Located in Cali's Central Valley, it is home to 26 active gas wells, along with 200 abandoned wells. Butte County will be the first county not only in California, but nationwide, to ban this industry. Several California cities, including Los Angeles, have upheld similar legal mandates.
Most activists who are organizing in opposition to fracking have always been go-with-the-flow citizens who don't like rebel-rousing or trouble-making. But they've found themselves being vocal and adamantly opposed to hydraulic fracturing. People who've never demonstrated are holding anti-fracking signs and they're rallying, protesting, and yelling at the powers-that-be to stop this heavy-industry nightmare. Concerned Californians are attending city-council and county-supervisor meetings, even packing the meeting room of the California State Capitol Hearing Room earlier this month awaiting the vote of a bill drafted to place a moratorium on fracking. There have been cases of protesters climbing fracking rigs and chaining themselves to these wells.
One thing's for certain: A deja vu of the 1849 Gold Rush isn't on California's glittering marquee in 2014 -- and a large portion of the populace is saying 'no' to the capture of oil and gas gushing from Mother Earth.
"Someone needs to explain to me why wanting clean drinking water makes you an activist, and why proposing to destroy water with chemical warfare doesn't make you a terrorist," said Winona LaDuke Anishinaabe, an American Indian activist, economist, and writer who was born in Los Angeles.
Currently the executive director of both Honor the Earth and the White Earth Recovery Project (which she founded on the White Earth Reservation in 1989), Winona LaDuke Anishinaabe ran for vice president as the nominee of Ralph Nader for the Green Party of the United States on the 1996 and 2000 tickets.
Winona LaDuke Anishinaabe isn't alone. She joins a legion of other Natives - not only in Southern California but across the USA and in Canada - opposed to fracking and other oil and gas industry intrusion, like the Keystone XL Pipeline, destined to cross Indian reservation lands all the way from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The American Indian Movement, Idle No More, and other First Nations organizations have been rallying, protesting, and are boldly and aggressively exercising their First Amendment rights on social media. A flurry of complaints recurs - nonstop - in the Indian corners of cyberspace.
On the Aim Southern Cal Facebook page is this message, posted on March 12 and attributed to Pennie Opal Plant, a member of Ide No More San Francisco Bay: "There is only 3% of fresh water on Mother Earth. We see the beautiful oceans so immense, but we can't drink that water. For countless generations, our human family has assumed that we will always have clean water. That is changing now with fossil-fuel-extractive corporations which are ruining our water at a rate that should be rising folks up out of their comfortable zones. According to Shannon Biggs of Global Exchange, 'Between 3-5 million gallons of water are used to frack a single well one time; one well can be fracked 18 times; this means that one fracked well requires between 54-90 million gallons of water in its lifetime - that's enough to fill up to 9 Yankee Stadiums!'
"Only 30% to 50% of fracked water is recyclable. There are now over 100,000 fracking wells in the United States. As indigenous people we know that our ancestors prayed for us. We feel their power. It is time for all of us to rise up to protect the sacred water, not only for ourselves, but for our grandchildren's grandchildren. It is our sacred obligation and duty to protect Mother Earth for those yet to come."
Meanwhile, in Richmond and Berkeley, anti-fracking groups are fighting trains carrying oil produced from fracking wells to California refinery destinations. Moviemaking isn't the only show in California -- Richmond and Contra Costa County are a home to a host of oil refineries. Advocates for 'fracking oil by rail' insist that carrying this heavy fuel by railroad tankers is a much safer and more expeditious than carrying it by tractor-trailer tankers. And rail transport is a more plausible alternative than via pipeline, like the Keystone XL.
In a coveted place that many in the world see as a virtual paradise, with beautiful weather, beautiful beaches, and beautiful people, the effects of fracking also create a nosedive in residential property values. Who wants the big trucks and tankers used to transport fracking materials buzzing by their homes and condominiums all day and all night? Who desires an increased threat of earthquakes, especially in communities laying on or near the San Andreas fault? And who wants to look out their windows only to see the ugly wells and gargantuan storage tanks used by this industry? And who in the other 49 states will see California as a great destination for starting a career or a retirement in the future, if fracking operatives dig deep and dig long? Sure, property values might be lowered, creating great deals on housing options, but who wants to live in an state plagued by a threat of contaminated ground water, with cancer-causing pollutants in the air?
Ray Beiersdorfer, Ph.D., who has been a geology professor at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio, for 21 years, complains that the economic impact of hydraulic fracturing has been grossly over-exaggerated. Oil and gas companies involved with fracking are experiencing the highest profits in the history of industry while labor costs have diminished drastically since Beiersdorfer switched jobs two decades and some odd years ago. Prior to joining the YSU faculty, Beiersdorfer worked as a geologist and manager for a company in the oil and gas harvesting industry.