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Sierra Club Fracking Talk
updated: Mar 21, 2014, 10:02 AM

By Robert Bernstein

Fracking was the issue that filled the Faulkner Monday with a Sierra Club event. Michael Thornton of the California State Sierra Club was the main speaker.

Here are my photos.

In my introduction to the event I explained that we would not have to deal with these issues if we had good sustainable transportation and energy policies. I reminded people that we need to rally for positive programs as well as against harmful ones.

I also explained that there are local issues of fracking as well as global issues. Locally, the issues are water and air pollution as well as earthquakes.

But the global issue is the impact on climate change: The process is very energy intensive. And, most important, the process provides a large supply of very dirty carbon-based fuel at relatively low cost.

I compared it to dumping your trash in the street and not having to pay for it. If people had to pay to dump their carbon in the atmosphere a lot of these problems would be solved.

The presentation by Sierra Club Coastal Organizer Mike Thornton mostly focused on the local rather than global issues.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in California is mostly about releasing "tight oil" from Monterey Shale, though it can also be used to extract natural gas.

Fracturing fluid is a mix of sand, water and chemicals and is forced into a well. This fractures the surrounding rock.

The amount of water used nationally is 70-140 billion gallons a year. That is about the water use of 40-80 cities of a population of 50,000.

Fracking and acidizing employ toxic chemical cocktails that contaminate both water and air. The so-called "Halliburton exemption" exempts fracking from air regulations!

Some of the chemicals used: Crystalline Silica, Methanol, Hydrochloric Acid, Hydrofluoric Acid, 2-Butoxy Ethanol, Ethyl Glycol (Monobutyl Ether), Xylene, Amorphous Silica Fume, Aluminum Oxide, Acrylic Polymer (Acid) Acetophenone Ethylbenzene.

In 2008, a Kern County farmer was awarded $8.5 million in compensatory damages for groundwater contamination from oil industry wastewater stored in open pits.

Some settlements forbid future investigations. And some spills simply go unreported if the contamination is not noticed.

Cathy Behr was a nurse at the Durango, CO, Mercy Regional Medical Center. In 2008 a gas-patch worker showed up in her ER soaked in a sweet-smelling fluid after a drilling accident.

She lost her sense of smell. Her vision blurred. Then came heart, liver and respiratory failures that nearly killed her.

Doctors tried to find out the chemicals in this "ZetaFlow" compound to provide proper treatment. The manufacturer Halliburton refused to provide the information as a "trade secret."

"Exploratory wells" have additional layers of secrecy.

As reported on NBC News: "Earthquakes were triggered by fluid injection shortly after the injection initiated - less than two weeks," says researcher Won-Young Kim, a seismologist at Columbia University's Lamont- Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.

Where? In Ohio! Thornton then showed a fault line map for California to remind us of our own risk.

Thornton also claimed that jobs from fracking are largely a myth as it employs few workers and most jobs are temporary. Boom town effects are largely negative, associated with increased crime and prices and money leaving the area. Afterwards, buildings are abandoned while road and other infrastructure damage remains.

Thornton used to work for the Sierra Fund in Nevada and dealt with abandoned mines there. Three million pounds of mercury from the original Gold Rush are still making their way through the ecosystems.

Fracking's demand for water drives up prices farmers pay.

Then there is offshore fracking. About half the platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel are dumping fracking waste. The oil industry has federal permission to dump more than 9 billion gallons of wastewater a year directly into the ocean off California's coast.

On 11/19/2013 Congresswoman Lois Capps called for a Federal fracking moratorium until the impacts are better understood. She said there was inadequate oversight.

The industry argues that fracking has gone on for decades. Thornton said it is like comparing the Wright Brothers' plane with the Space Shuttle. Current fracking uses pressures and chemicals that are unprecedented.

58% of registered voters in California want a fracking moratorium. SB1132 by Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno would do that. It started from hydrofluoric acid spills in Mitchell's district. SB1132 builds on the existing SB4. It would require a study to be made public. The governor would determine if fracking can continue and his decision could be challenged in court.

The precautionary principle calls for proving something is safe rather than assuming something is safe.

The LA City Council voted 10-0 for a fracking moratorium. They got so many calls of support they had to ask people to stop.

Action at the local level with representatives you know is very important. He said we can be like fire ants at a picnic. You make it so investors put their money elsewhere. Thornton showed a rally sign that read, "Only You Can Prevent Faucet Fires."

Linda Krop of the Environmental Defense Center spoke next. Starting with past EDC successes on limiting offshore oil drilling since the 1969 spill. They were able to shut down 40 platforms and most remaining untapped leases.

They did a Freedom Of Information Act request on fracking and issued a report. It turned out there were at least 15 fracking "incidents" in the past 20 years. Some happened near the Marine Sanctuary and the Channel Islands National Park.

EDC is calling for a moratorium on offshore fracking. There should be consultation with Fish and Wildlife and with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The third and final speaker was Rebecca Claassen from the new group Santa Barbara County Water Guardians. They are pushing for a full ban on fracking and acidization.

By state law, a moratorium cannot last more than two years. That is not much, considering the work that will go into getting one. And considering the amount of information that is needed to know what really is going on. A ban can always be reversed.

Of course, people wanted to know how to help.

1) Get on the Sierra Club and EDC e-mail lists so you are ready to act when needed to support SB1132 and other actions.

2) Help Santa Barbara County Water Guardians collect signatures for their ban request. On April 5 there will be a kickoff event in Alameda Park.

Here is their website!

The Santa Barbara County Water Guardians have filed an initiative to ban fracking in Santa Barbara County. [pics] (03/20/14)
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