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Thousands Converge on Sacramento for Anti-Fracking Rally

Governor Brown’s support for fracking has alienated his environmentalist base

SACRAMENTO — A busload of people from San Diego awoke early Saturday and hit the road as one of 20 buses from across California headed to the state capitol. The buses were full of passengers eager to express their concerns with hydraulic fracking and urge Gov. Jerry Brown to place a moratorium on this controversial form of oil and natural gas extraction.

anti-fracking protestors in SacramentoPhoto by Cole AllenPeople from all over California converged on the capitol in Sacramento March 15 for an anti-fracking rally that organizers said is the largest one in the state to date.

“No freaking fracking!” protestors chanted throughout the rally, which attracted at least 5,000 people on March 15, making it the largest anti-fracking mobilization in the state, according to organizers. “It shows that people care enough to come all the way to Sacramento to have their voices heard,” said Hillary Aidun, an organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. Aidun’s group is a member of Californians Against Fracking, a coalition of more than 80 environmental and public health organizations.

“I’m here today because I believe clean air and clean water are civil rights and human rights,” Madeline Stano of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment told the crowd. “And I believe all Californians deserve a safe place to live, work and play.”

Fracking blasts large volumes of water mixed with toxic chemicals into the earth to dissolve and break up rock formations and release the fossil fuels inside, which then flow to the surface. Proponents see say the technique is critical for getting inside California’s Monterey Shale, which is estimated to contain up to 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The formation extends 1,750-square-miles below ground from central to southern California. Fracking is currently taking place in the state with no government regulation or oversight.

Fracking proponents see the potential for new jobs and tax revenue. Foes see a practice that pollutes the air and water, would make California more susceptible to earthquakes, and threatens the health of humans, animals, crops and ecosystems. “It affects everyone,” Aidun said. “People who live near fracking and the water and air contamination are more at risk, but it poses a serious threat to all of us, particularly because it exacerbates climate change.”

Methane, which is a powerful global-warming pollutant and much more potent than carbon dioxide, is released at multiple stages during fracking and in the processing and transportation of the fossil fuel, according to a recent report by Environment America. Opponents question how the pollution involved with fracking jives with the state of California’s mandate to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 25 percent by 2020.

Fracking also involves significant water use at a time when California faces a severe drought. Dr. Tim Krantz, a professor at the University of Redlands in Southern California, told the protestors that fracking pollutes groundwater. Jackie Gundert traveled from Chico, about an hour and a half drive from Sacramento, to attend the rally. “I came because it’s important to stop fracking,” Gundert said. “I think water is the biggest issue. When you start talking about water you have common interests because without water you die. We’re supposed to be good stewards of the Earth and leave it in a better condition than we found it, and that’s not happening.”

Last week, Earthworks, the Center for Biological Diversity and Clean Water Action released a report that found oil companies are increasing California’s earthquake risk by injecting billions of gallons of oil and gas wastewater annually into hundreds of wells near active faults, including in Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano, Sacramento and other cities. The underground disposal of wastewater for oil and gas drilling has been linked to earthquakes in other parts of the country, including Oklahoma and Ohio.

For the past several months, Californians Against Fracking coalition members have been calling on Governor Brown to place a moratorium on fracking through an executive order. In January, more than 50 organizations signed a letter expressing the need for a “time-out on fracking” until more thorough assessments of the health and environmental risks can be completed. A rift has developed between Brown and his Democratic base, as the governor — long known for his commitment to environmental protection — seems unwilling to stop fracking. Brown first angered environmentalists last year by supporting a bill by Senator Fran Pavley that allowed for the use of this technology to continue while the state studies its impacts.

Fracking opponents are encouraged by Senate Bill 1132, sponsored by Senator Holly Mitchell and Senator Mark Leno, which would impose a moratorium on this technique and acid well stimulation in California. On April 8, the first hearing on SB 1132 will occur in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water.

During the rally, cofounders of the statewide coalition Students Against Fracking directed their comments to Governor Brown. “We won’t remember your environmental triumphs of the ‘70s. We weren’t even born then,” said Wes Adrianson, a University of California, Berkeley student. “But we’ll remember how you sold out our generation and future generations to industry with no regard for the environment or human health.”

Sena Christian
Sena Christian is a Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder.

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