San Jose Mercury News, December 26, 2014
California's movement to ban fracking and other dangerous oil extraction techniques just got a huge boost from the other side of the country. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced a fracking ban in New York. Cuomo's decision follows a report from the state's Department of Health that found fracking poses an unacceptable public health risk.
That ratchets up pressure on Gov. Jerry Brown to extend the same health and environmental protections to Californians. Instead, Brown has allowed a disturbing expansion of fracking and drilling, leaving California communities to fend for themselves against the powerful oil industry.
As Brown enters his last term, he should take a cue from Cuomo and listen to his constituents who want him to protect California's health, water and air by changing course on fracking, which blasts huge volumes of water mixed with toxic chemicals into the earth to shatter rock formations and release oil and gas.
Facing the threat of increased oil development, communities are taking actions to protect themselves. Santa Cruz and Mendocino counties and the city of Beverly Hills have passed measures to ban fracking and similar oil extraction techniques. In November San Benito County voters approved a fracking ban with a 59 percent majority, despite a $2 million opposition campaign by the oil industry.
Two cities in Los Angeles County are slated to vote on fracking and oil projects in March. After a proposal to build a new oil well in their community, La Habra Heights residents recently qualified a ballot measure to ban fracking and other dangerous techniques. In the same election, Hermosa Beach voters will finally decide the fate of a new oil development that residents have for years worked to prevent.
But people's passion for protecting their communities does not excuse inaction by Brown. While some communities, like San Benito County, will prevail against oil companies' financial might, the industry's deep pockets may intimidate others.
Polls have shown that a strong majority of Californians favor a halt to fracking.
Brown admits it comes with problems, including water pollution threats, increased earthquake risk and climate damage. Yet he signed Senate Bill 4, which allowed fracking and related techniques to continue without first completing an environmental study.
New York did conduct such a study, and what officials found was troubling. Scientists and health experts agreed that the potential harm to public health was far too great. Mounting evidence indicates that water contamination, air pollution and serious health problems could result from allowing fracking to move forward.
Fracking also releases large amounts of methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas that is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period in warming the atmosphere.
The bottom line is that all phases of oil and gas development can cause grave and unacceptable damage to our health and environment. And fracking allows this harmful industry to expand its reach.
Brown has tried to have it both ways. He allows oil companies to do more drilling and fracking while touting himself as a leader in the fight against global warming. More California communities are showing him that they will not accept this contradiction, which comes at the expense of their health and quality of life.
Adam Scow is Food & Water Watch's California director. Hollin Kretzmann is a Center for Biological Diversity attorney. They wrote this for this newspaper.
This article originally appeared here.
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