Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment

Fracking in California: The Silent War.

The practice of fracking is booming in California. California's Central Valley sits on one of the largest known oil reserves in the country, the Monterey Shale. Industry has been feverishly extracting this oil through a process known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Fracking involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and over 600 chemicals into the ground at high pressures in order to extract oil. This process consumes massive amounts of water and pollutes the air, soil and drinking water.

In the Valley, oil companies frack next door to schools and homes without providing residents any notice before beginning or any information regarding how it may affect their health. Agencies severely under-regulate fracking which means that residents do not know what dangerous chemicals they are exposed to or have any idea how to protect themselves. One Valley resident called fracking a “silent war” because agencies have turned a blind eye to the industry’s destructive practices. In this war, residents near fracking operations suffer from health ailments such as skin infections, trouble breathing, and chronic pain, but have no one to turn to for help. Unfortunately, industry is waging this war in low income communities of color throughout California.

It’s no accident that fracking is under-regulated. In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act in order to promote the production of domestic energy. Industry interests successfully lobbied Congress to specifically exempt fracking from all major environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. This year California lawmakers attempted to regulate fracking in the state. All but one bill failed after relentless attacks by the oil industry. The industry hijacked the one fracking bill that became law, ensuring that fracking chemicals and the threats they pose remain secret. These laws were enacted to help industry, not protect our communities.

But CRPE is changing that. We are working directly with impacted Latino communities in the Valley to learn how residents want to respond to these threats and what we can do to make their vision a reality. Throughout the summer we held trainings to educate residents about fracking, answer their questions, and create an action plan. As Californians argue over whether to ban or regulate fracking and in which way, CRPE believes the residents most impacted in environmental justice communities must lead the conversation and make the decisions that affect their communities.

(Photos: CRPE organizer Bianca Quintero, courtesy of Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA; Oil well in Shafter, CA; Community member at Sacramento rally, courtesy of California Environmental Justice Alliance.)

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