What the Frack

One million acres condemned to gas drilling

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Illustration by Manne Green

Along with wildfires and earthquakes, California faces another environmental threat — the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) obsession with fracking.

The BLM released a report on April 25 labeling one million acres — three times the size of the city of Los Angeles — of federal land in California as safe for fracking. The project area affects eight counties and borders national parks and conservation sites.

The federal move goes against everything California’s government is working toward. Governor Gavin Newsom promised to strengthen restrictions on oil operations, but the state doesn’t have jurisdiction over federal land. The Trump administration’s responsibility to the people is drowned out by the sweet nothings of oil lobbyists, and California will potentially be subjected to intense environmental degradation even when the attitude of the state is trending toward renewable energy.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of extracting oil from shale rock. It involves drilling deep into the earth’s surface and blasting a water and chemical mixture at high pressure into the rock to release gas. The gas then flows to the surface, where it’s collected.

Air pollution is already a problem in the Central Valley, with Sequoia National Park and Bakersfield hosting some of the worst air quality in the state. A 2016 State of the Air report by the American Lung Association found Bakersfield to be the most polluted city in the United States. The water usage, tremors and hazardous gas associated with fracking would further poison an area already fraught with environmental issues.

A massive amount of water is required to successfully fracture shale rock, and fracking sites are typically miles away from reliable sources of water. Trucks that transport the water contribute to a multilayered drain on resources in a state that’s starved of them.

Fracking is also forceful. Reinjecting the contaminated water that rises up along with the oil can cause tremors. While earthquakes caused by fracking are typically minor, there have been outlying cases with magnitudes as high as 5.0, which can cause damage to poorly maintained structures nearby.

Chemical agents are mixed in with water and oil to speed up the process. If done improperly, fracking can poison vast amounts of drinkable groundwater and release chemical agents into the air. Residents near a Pennsylvania drilling site reported methane in well water.

California’s national monuments and parks are not just for show. They play an important role in the state’s ecosystem by providing a safe haven for endangered species, all of which would suffer from the side effects of nearby fracking.

Fracking causes irreversible damage to the environment and endangers nearby residents. At a time when climate change is at the forefront of global conversation, the Trump administration’s decision to open more lands to fracking is spitting in the face of our future.

We must communicate that the plan is dangerous and unwanted. The public comment period remains open until June 10. Share your feedback with the BLM and let them know California doesn’t want more fracking.