Fracking debate shows no sign of relenting

Dianne Anderson
By Dianne Anderson
For business

Who’d like a long cool drink of fracking water? Among those who know what fracking is, there are not a lot of takers.

Whenever Elliot Ruben Gonzales goes out to speak on sustainability issues, he usually has to go back to the basics – defining fracking and what the community can do about it. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is pressurized drilling with toxic chemicals to extract oil and gas from deep in the ground.

Questions on deep fossil fuel drilling came up again at the recent Long Beach (CA) State of the Environment Conference, during which panelists covered global warming concerns and how to lead communities toward clean energy choices.

“The technology is available, technological opportunities in electric vehicles, hydrogen, biogas, bio-diesel. We need to invest in that and stop subsidizing oil companies,” said Gonzales, a panelist at the  event hosted by the Student Sustainability Coalition at California State University, Long Beach.

Gonzales, who has served eight years on the Long Beach Sustainable City Commission, feels the problem of fracking is mostly a matter of political will. Several years ago, he founded Stop Fracking Long Beach to create awareness and grassroots resistance to local dirty energy.

Fossil fuel companies have little incentive to prioritize global warming solutions as they draw down tens of billions in subsidies every year, money he feels that could be used for clean energy programs.

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“We could guarantee a job for everybody putting solar panels up, putting wind farms up, energy systems, creatively and collectively owned by counties, states, taxpayers and ratepayers. All of this is possible,” said Gonzales, who is also running on the progressive ticket for California State Assembly District 70.

Clean energy solutions have been around for a long time, and he said the nation already has what it needs to break away from fracking. He’s also not impressed with GasFrac as clean gas. Gas is still oil, and oil is still fracked.

“It even gets clean energy credits and treated as though it’s equal to solar panels and wind because it reduces carbon, even though they fracked for it. There’s really nothing clean about it, but it’s marketed as though it is,” he said.

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In April, the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York released its annual internationally referenced reporton fracking, along with a long list of public health concerns. “Altogether, findings to date from scientific, medical, and journalistic investigations combine to demonstrate that fracking poses significant threats to air, water, health, public safety, climate stability, seismic stability, community cohesion, and long-term economic vitality. Emerging data from a rapidly expanding body of evidence continue to reveal a plethora of recurring problems and harms that cannot be sufficiently averted through regulatory frameworks,” the report concluded.

According to Natural Resources Defense Council, transitioning to cleaner energy sources could save the U.S. $120 billion in health care costs each year.

Mapping provides a proactive tool for residents and legislators.

Each day, Jeff Cohn gets several thousand hits on his nationwide environmental maps from residents, industry professionals, and nonprofits seeking information on fracking, drilling, tar plants, refineries, and media covering health outcomes.

The maps also source public data, including power plants, locations of solar farms, solar roofs and solar parking lots.

Lately, he is getting more inquiries from Colorado residents experiencing oil drilling there for the first time. They want to learn more about unsafe neighborhoods and areas with high asthma, and cancer rates.

In California where cleaner air is expected, especially by the beach, he says he can barely keep the windows open while driving past the 405 Freeway. Recently, his son was playing soccer next to Westminster with an oil facility across the street.

“The wind was blowing east and I thought, ‘How do these kids deal with this on a daily basis?’ I found no articles, nothing on it,” he said.

Cohn started DrillingMaps.com in 2012 when a Hermosa Beach drilling fight ended in victory with a strong local vote to keep big oil out of the community. His research led him into oil and gas spaces at a time when no databases existed, only health safety and pollution articles. He designed his free maps to aggregate localized information for a geospatial view to help people see what’s in their backyards.

“We get several contributions from people each day, an oil issue here, a fracking issue there. It’s designed to be a long-term placeholder for those that want to move to an area and do some [background] research,” he said.

Fracking is nothing new.

Fracking has been going on about 50 years, but Cohn is baffled at how little coverage it receives from the local press. One example is the city of Carson on Wilmington Avenue near Neptune Avenue, where oil regularly seeps into the streets. Fracking pressure causes underground leaks, damaging the integrity of wells that now leak oil and gas under homes built on old capped wells from the 1920s. Now, the caps are wearing thin.

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“They’re fracking two or three blocks away, and the press is like, Oh, it’s oil seeping down the street,  just clean it up,” he said.

He hopes residents and nonprofits can use the maps if moving to new communities, or identify areas with large numbers of children sick with cancer or asthma, or nearby polluting facilities.

Drilling and refineries are also exploratory, always looking to expand, so he believes the community needs valid data and the knowledge of health risks they are up against.

“You have to provide people with data, and allow them to consume the data in how they see fit,” he said. “There’s tons of stuff in your own backyard. To me, it’s a hyper-local phenomenon.”

Dianne Anderson covers education, health, and city government stories with an eye on legislative impacts to diverse communities. She has received awards from the American Cancer Society – Inland Empire, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Over the years, she has reported for the Long Beach Leader and the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and been a contributor to the Pasadena Weekly.