by Leslie Crenna
Despite afternoon rain, at least 8,000 dedicated citizens, including about 60 from Sacramento and Davis combined, called on Governor Jerry Brown to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” across our state on Saturday, February 7, 2015, at a march in Brown’s home town, Oakland. The parallel issue of crude-by-rail—which is how the vast majority of fracked oil and gas is transported across the country—was addressed repeatedly by organizers and participants as well.
Co-organizer Food and Water Watch called the March for Real Climate Leadership the largest march to date on the fracking issue. The event brought together representatives from nearly 140 groups statewide including various 350 chapters, ForestEthics, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Sunflower Alliance, Code Pink, CREDO, indigenous communities, local labor unions, and health care professionals. Local activists Lynne Nittler and Elizabeth Lasensky took the train from Davis to Jack London Square on Saturday and stayed overnight to participate in a convergence on oil trains the following day.
Lasensky reported that “Sunday’s convergence was energizing. It was good to connect with other activists working on the oil train issue, to find out what they were doing, how and why they were successful in their efforts and to form coalitions to collaborate going forward. One area needing more focus is how to move the conversation from oil trains to the larger issue of climate change. There’s so much to be done.”
Lynne Nittler, who served on a panel focused on crude-by-rail transport, commented, “California is the fourth largest oil state in the US so a ban on fracking will be considerably harder to achieve here than it was in New York. Our own governor has expedited the permit process for drilling new wells. But with this showing of 8,000 people willing to take time on a Saturday to march and then follow up with the hard work of a campaign exposing the truth on fracking, we can raise the level of awareness until we gain enough public support and momentum to win.”
Two school buses were chartered to bring participants from Sacramento and Davis to the plaza in front of Oakland City Hall early Saturday morning. Several other attendees from Davis took the train to the event. Marchers gathered from as far away as San Diego and a contingent from the Marshall Islands spoke at the follow up rally.
Handmade and reusable silkscreened banners, standards, signs, and feather style streamers complemented a traditional poster board with the central message of the march addressed to Governor Brown. Marchers brought a plethora of their own unique messages like: There is no planet B, Part of the onesie percent (from a hippo onesie wearer), Climate leaders don’t frack, and I love clean water.
The event kicked off with several speakers on the steps of city hall. Linda Capato of 350.org made a sharp comparison. “Claiming to be a climate leader while allowing fracking is like saying you’re trying to save money from inside a Louis Vuitton.”
“The student voice holds a lot of power,” said Eva Malis, a student at UC Berkeley. “We are aware, we are conscious, we are bold, we are brave, and we are concerned that fracking is hurting our communities. This dangerous and irresponsible practice does not belong in California.”
Marches gather at Lake Merritt Plaza
After a mile march led by chanters, drummers, at least one saxophonist, plus bicyclists and kayakers astride the crowd, marchers gathered for a rally at Lake Merritt Plaza. The crowd was led and entertained by motivational speakers and music by Shake Your Peace—all powered by Rock the Bike, a bike-powered business that mixes up smoothies and runs microphones and amplifiers entirely on two banks of 10 bikes flanking the stage. Marchers gladly stepped up to pedal the two-wheeled generators and literally energize the bike-powered event.
After the rally, a short convergence was held at Laney College beginning with a panel of four plus representatives from Food and Water Watch who answered questions including a tough one about the value of marches over ballot initiatives.
Two speakers from the recent successful effort to ban fracking in New York offered organizing tips like monitor press on the issue, tell the truth with real science, coordinate with local groups, involve health professionals and business groups, push for city and county level bans, enlist pledges of civil disobedience, and, finally, use your creativity.
Antonia Juhasz, author of “Black Tide,” zeroed in on fracking facts: 95 percent of fracking in the state of California occurs in and around Bakersfield and Kern County, 79 percent of oil transported by rail is fracked from the North Dakota Bakken Shale deposit, and there are likely twice as many fracking sites in California as the 1,400 that have been disclosed.
Ms. Juhasz described California as “Chevron territory” and noted that our state is now fourth in oil and gas production falling from third since North Dakota rocketed into the rankings with the recent fracking boom there.
Madeleine Stano, staff attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment who represents clients in Kern County, shared maps showing the concentration of fracking wells in the lower Central Valley, where food and livestock are raised for consumption by Californians, the nation, and the world, and a majority Latino population struggles to fight the impacts of the dangerous practice.
Ms. Stano cited in particular Sequoia Elementary School 15 miles north of Bakersfield where children are falling ill with prostate cancer and other illnesses. A 12 year old girl there slipped into a coma during a respiratory attack and did not survive. The school has a fracking well site within 100 feet of school grounds. The state of California is alone among other oil producing states like Texas in not requiring set backs from schools and residential areas.
The good news according to Ms. Juhasz is that fracking wells only produce for a short time and are expensive to operate, so expensive that the recent fall in oil prices has recently halted the initiation of new well sites. She also reported that consumption is down and that oil companies’ own overproduction is part of the puzzle of falling prices.
Activists exchange stories
A short workshop following the panel brought together activists from across the Sacramento Valley including Frack Free Butte County, Greenpeace Sacramento, the California Student Sustainability Coalition, and our own Yolano Climate Action.
Participants were able to briefly share success stories, in particular Butte County which may have enough support for a county-level ban on fracking but also has a ban positioned on a 2016 ballot. Yolano Climate Action, represented by Nittler and Lasensky, reported successfully engaging the City of Davis, Yolo County, and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments to challenge the draft EIR for a proposed expanded rail terminal facility to handle increased crude-by-rail traffic in Benicia, which contributed to delaying the Valero project.
Activists are concerned about rail transport disasters, environmental justice, ground water contamination, ill health effects, and climate impacts connected with the practice. The recent decision of Governor Cuomo of New York to ban fracking statewide was based partly on a report issued in December of last year by the NY department of health.
The report states, “until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from [high volume hydraulic fracturing or] HVHF to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH recommends that HVHF should not proceed in New York State.”
The state of Vermont banned fracking as long ago as 2012. Scotland called for a moratorium on fracking in January of this year, and the Welsh parliament voted against the use of shale gas fracking just last week. Other cities and counties across the US have followed suit.
Among California counties, voters in Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Mendocino passed bans last year. California cities that have already passed moratoriums on fracking include Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and Carson. A complete international list of fracking bans can be found at http://keeptapwatersafe.org/global-bans-on-fracking/. One speaker at the post-march rally was involved in the fight that led to the ban on fracking in the city of Carson north of Long Beach in March of last year.
While some critics question the validity of activist claims and the NY department of health report claims the science is currently inconclusive, a working paper with an accompanying infographic (revised Jan 2015) from PSE Healthy Energy examined 425 peer reviewed studies on the topic and found that 87 percent indicated “potential public health risks or actual adverse outcomes,” 73 percent indicated “potential, positive associate, or actual incidence of water contamination,” and that 92 percent indicated “elevated air pollutant emissions and/or atmospheric concentrations.”