Drought Weary California Farmers Lobby For Fracking Ban

Citing concerns that fracking would consume a lot of water in a state already plagued by the worst drought in decades, California’s farmers are amplifying their calls against pro-fracking legislation.
By @katierucke |
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    California farmers

    California farmers deliver a letter signed by 145 farmers calling for a moratorium on fracking to California Governor Brown’s office. Feb. 26 (Photo: Farmers Against Fracking)

    Despite several polls indicating that a majority of California residents are opposed to the “water-intensive extreme oil and gas extraction process” known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the state’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has continued to pledge his support for pro-fracking legislation.

    As Brown gets closer to signing a piece of legislation that would allow for the expansion of fracking and other controversial forms of oil extraction in California’s Monterey Shale formation, located beneath California’s “most prized” farmland, opponents have boosted their work to ban fracking in the state.

    The latest efforts to prevent fracking came this week, when 145 California farmers delivered a petition to Brown’s Sacramento-based office calling for a moratorium on fracking. They argue that given California’s current devastating drought conditions, now is not the time to increase the presence of an industry that requires mass amounts of water.

    “Water is the lifeblood of a farm — without clean, affordable water we cannot grow food,” Tom Frantz, an almond farmer, said about the importance of the moratorium. “This drought has already put many of California’s small and midsized farms on the brink. To allow fracking on some of California’s most fertile agricultural land will further devastate California’s bucolic heritage.”

    Frantz filmed people in the fracking industry illegally dumping fracking wastewater into an unlined pit near his almond orchard in the town of Shafter in October 2012.

    California State Grange President Bob McFarland agreed. “When farmers cannot irrigate their land, their workers lose their jobs and local economies suffer.

    “Some never recover,” he said. “Much of the world relies on the excellent produce and nuts grown in California, and our water should be used to grow this food and feed people, not wasted in a toxic extraction process to produce oil to be shipped overseas.”

    The petition was organized in conjunction with Food & Water Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity and other members of the statewide coalition Californians Against Fracking.

    In addition to groups of farmers, the petition has been signed by more than 170 chefs, restaurateurs, brewers, purveyors, retailers and winemakers from across California. Their concerns are related to that of the farmers, since California farmers are the ones who grow the bulk of American’s fruits, vegetables and nuts.

    Though the American public largely associates California with Hollywood, the Golden State is actually the nation’s largest farm state, with more than 80,000 farms that produce about $45 billion in annual profits.

    Paula Getzelman, owner of Tre Gatti Vineyards in Monterey County, Calif., said she signed the petition because, at least in the short-term, “fracking makes competition for California’s water even more fierce, which could have a significant negative effect on farmers, ranchers and vintners.”

    She went on to add that the “long-term consequences of fracking are even more devastating,” and that “California needs to be investing in the people who cultivate the land and feed people, not the oil companies that threaten to pollute our land, water and communities.”

    Given that states such as Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio have all seen farmers lose farm animals that drank fracking runoff and water from wells near fracking operations, Adam Scow, California campaigns director for Food & Water Watch, said Gov. Brown needs to sign a moratorium to protect the state’s farmers, whom he said “are vital to a healthy food system and a healthy economy…”

    California’s latest drought has been one of the most devastating to farmers in at least the past 54 years, with the price of water skyrocketing from $135 an acre-foot last year to about $1,350 an acre-foot in the second week of February this year, according to the advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

    “California needs an immediate halt to fracking to protect our state’s precious water from this toxic technique,” said Brian Nowicki of the Center for Biological Diversity. “To safeguard our farmers and others affected by our state’s crippling drought, Governor Brown should halt fracking in our state to protect the air we breathe and the water we so desperately need.”

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