San Luis Obispo county has a historic opportunity this November to ban Fracking in our county, limit injection of oil waste water into our aquifers, and end new oil well production by voting YES on Measure G. No oil jobs would be lost, there would be no impact on taxes or our current economy and existing oil production may operate with the hundreds of wells currently pumping. With millions of dollars being poured into our community to confuse, scare, and disinform our voters, I thought it would be timely to do some research on how this measure will effect our health.
Fracking has already been banned in several California counties, US states, Canadian provinces and European countries. Fracking has been banned in Germany, France and 3 other European countries. The state of New York and 2 other states in the US have banned fracking (5). Quebec, Newfoundland, Labrador and Nova Scotia have banned fracking (1). Monterey county and 5 other California counties have already banned fracking (5).
Unfortunately, our country is headed dangerously in the opposite direction. According to Los Padres Forest Watch, the Trump administration is seeking to open more than ¼ million acres to oil development along the central coast of California. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is set to auction off this land to oil companies starting at $2/acre. A 5 acre parcel is located across the street from Los Osos middle school. Other drilling sites would be very close to schools in Ojai and Carpinteria. 1200 acres would be opened up within Montana De Oro state park. 200 acres would be opened up in the Reservoir Canyon Natural Reserve. 76 acres would be opened up next to Irish Hills Natural Reserve. Drilling would also be opened up atop and around Moro Rock State Preserve. 1/3 of the Carrizo Plain National Monument would be opened up for drilling and fracking, threatening several endangered species. 160 acres of the Rancho Santa Rita Preserve could be opened under the plan. The BLM plan would open a 4 acre parcel on the shore of Lopez lake and 320 acres on a hillside ½ mile upstream from the lake, directly threatening the south county drinking water supply. 32,000 acres are up for grabs in the Santa Lucia mountains, including hundreds of acres around Lake Nacimiento. It also would open up 5000 acres around Santa Margarita lake , as well as 980 acres along Whale Rock Reservoir, threatening the drinking water of the City of San Luis Obispo and the Cal Poly campus (4).
According to the Coalition to Protect San Luis Obispo county, there is a plan to expand the Arroyo Grande oil field by more than 400 new wells from Edna Valley to the Santa Maria basin. (2)
According to the Center For Biological Diversity, much of the fracking n California is shallow fracking which occurs within a few hundred feet or even directly adjacent to drinking water supplies. For more than 150 years oil companies have received full or partial exemptions from federal laws including the Clean Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and several others. State regulation of Unconventional Gas Development showed the lowest compliance and protection out of any state in the country. A study coordinated by the California Council on Science and Technology was the first to evaluate the harms and risks of fracking in the state. In the study, it was recommended to establish a health and safety buffer zone around all oil wells, due to health risks from air pollution, banning shallow fracking, and banning the disposal of toxic fracking wastewater into open pits as done in other states. None of these recommendations have been implemented by Governor Brown’s regulators. (5)
Fracking, also know as Unconventional Oil and Gas Development, is a type of oil production in which wells are drilled deep into the ground. Next, a mixture of water and more than 1000 chemicals, some known carcinogens and other un-studied chemicals, are blasted under high pressure into the well to fracture the rock and release difficult to get to, dirty oil and gas (1). According to the Coalition to Protect San Luis Obispo County, this oil extraction uses 19 gallons of water for every gallon of oil produced. The oil, gas, chemical, and water mix is then pumped back up to the surface. The resulting water, known as “Produced Water” is contaminated with heavy metals, bromides and radioactive materials (3). The oil from fracking is taken to refineries, mostly located in the San Francisco Bay area (2). Sources of water contamination include old and broken well casings, equipment failure, surface spills, leakage from unlined pits, and discharge into rivers and aquifers (3).
Rates of well failure for oil and gas wells are extraordinarily high and California regulators do not systematically collect data on well failure rates in California. The toxic residual water from fracking, known as “Produced Water” is used to grow citrus fruits, nuts, grapes, root vegetables and other produce in the San Joaquin Valley. Even though the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act prohibits injections of oil wastewater into aquifers, the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has allowed oil producers to inject oil wastewater into aquifers that are supposed to be protected. To date the DOGGR had identified more than 2500 wells injecting into non exempt aquifers. Another method of toxic wastewater disposal is via unlined percolation pits. Although this disposal is prohibited, it is still allowed to continue. These pits have already contaminated several groundwater sources in the central valley. California is one of only 3 states that allows the oil industry to dump toxic wastewater into open unlined pits for disposal. Current federal regulations also allow oil companies to frack and discharge their wastewater directly into the ocean (5).
A peer reviewed study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showing that of the thousands of chemicals released into our air and water in the fracking process, only 20% have been studied enough to understand wether or not they are harmful to our health. Of these 200 studied chemicals, more than 50 were shown to cause cancer. 20 of these cancer causing chemicals have been shown to increase the risk of leukemia and lymphoma (1).
Leukemia is the most common form of childhood cancers. Unfortunately, rates of childhood cancers have been increasing in our country. In addition to cancers, fracking chemicals have been shown to produce reproductive and developmental toxins, as well as endocrine disruptors. Epidemiological studies have shown an increase in cancer, birth defects, asthma and hospitalizations in people living near fracking wells (3, 5).
Ozone air pollution from fracking has been linked to pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and premature death. Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene pose threats to virtually all systems of the body including the sensory, gastrointestinal, immune, reproductive, cardiovascular, endocrine and nervous systems. (5).
In addition to all of the local and personal health effects discussed above, a thorough consideration of this measure would not be adequate outside of the context of our current global climate chaos. According to a large body of research the vast majority of global and US fossil fuels must stay in the ground to avoid the worst dangers of climate change. California produces some of the dirtiest and most climate-polluting oil on the planet. 75% of California’s oil production is as climate damaging as Canadian tar sands crude (5). There can be no question that we are experiencing increased heat waves, droughts and catastrophic fires due to climate instability. Our county and our children deserve that we put their health and ours before the profits of the wealthiest companies on the planet. The Earth does not belong to fossil fuel companies, but we all belong to the Earth. Her health, IS our health. Our perceived separation is only a dangerous illusion.
— Troy Anthony Smith, DC, Pismo Beach, CA.
References (13, 15, 14, pdf, 16)