I read with both interest and some consternation the April 6 article by Thomas Elias touting the potential miracle cure of fracking to what ails the California economy. I think a little more homework and research is required. For eight years I served as a senior advisor to Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a period where with the Governor’s encouragement fracking literally exploded onto the bucolic scene that is rural Pennsylvania.
California would do well to look closely at the deliberative efforts underway in New York State, where the Governor and Assembly are wrestling over the question of whether or not to lift the moratorium imposed there several years ago, but also to carefully look at some of the disasters that have befallen other states like Pennsylvania before jumping headfirst into what may actually be a very toxic pool indeed.
Also, it is with stunned amazement that the article did not even mention legislation offered by former Santa Monica Mayor and current Assemblyman Richard Bloom that would impose a moratorium until many unanswered questions are both raised and answered satisfactorily with regard to public health and environmental impacts of this extractive process. Relying on a study that was funded by the oil and gas industry as to the potential benefits of a process that will add to the unfathomable profits reaped by that very industry seems to be a very dicey proposition to say the least.
From my experiences with fracking, and I have seen it up close and personal, there are five major areas of concern here in the Golden State: first, there is the question of water, both quality and quantity; second, there is a question of air contamination; third, the issue of adverse public health impacts; fourth, there is a growing concern over the issue of induced earthquakes; and lastly, the overriding concern over worsening the effects of climate change.
Fracking requires large amounts of water mixed with sand and many toxic chemicals that have trade secret protection and are not known to the public. Disposal of fracked water is a problem as well. Whether drilling for natural gas or oil the extraction process is subject to an unacceptable percentage of methane leakage. Methane is 105 times more dangerous than Carbon Dioxide over a twenty-year period. Public health impacts from exposure to carcinogens have led to increased incidences of asthma, heightened cancer clusters around drilling sites, and many of the chemicals used in the process are known to cause developmental problems to unborn in the womb. Injecting fracked water that returns to the surface into deep injection wells has recently resulted in increased earthquake activity in Oklahoma.
And last but certainly not least the overall impacts of drilling the depths of Mother Earth for every last drop of fossil fuel will only exacerbate the already catastrophic trajectory we are witnessing with respect to global warming and climate change.
These questions must be dealt with before we accelerate the process not after it is underway. A moratorium not only makes good common sense, but it is sound policy that protects the public. We must also be focused on the appropriate question which is not whether or not we should reduce our dependence on foreign oil, of course the answer is yes, but rather we should spend our political capital and financial resources on weaning this nation off of our addiction to fossil fuels, where once again the answer is clearly yes.
The long-term potential of fracking must be examined on a comprehensive, evidence-based and scientifically validated and peer-reviewed set of data that places people over profits. Quite simply we need to place our children and grandchildren above the search for immediate gratification.
Assemblymenbers Bloom and Holly Mitchell deserve credit for showing vision and courage and should be rewarded with adoption of legislation that stresses the precautionary approach, to essentially do no harm. And in the end we must be willing to accept that at the end of the day fracking is not the future.
Simmens recently taught Public Policy at Santa Monica College and has spent over 36 years involved in public service at the Federal, State and local levels of government.