BEARDEN: Fracking likely to harm water supply — and ag

May 30, 2013 

It isn't every day 12th District Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen can be seen holding hands with the Obama administration, yet there she is, like Jack and Jill going up the hill to fetch a pail of oil.

That's right, oil. In a March 22 commentary ("Valley's economic recovery lies in shale deposit"), Olsen trumpeted the exploitation of shale trapped oil found in large deposits from Kern County to the west side of Stanislaus while the Obama administration, through the Bureau of Land Management, has approved the lease of 2,700 acres in Fresno and Monterey counties to oil and gas drillers.

The tag line is jobs, lots of them, according to Olsen and an oft-quoted report, "Powering California: The Monterey Shale and California Economic Future."

This optimistic USC-generated report was funded by the Western States Petroleum Association, whose members include Chevron, ExxonMobil and others commonly known as Big Oil. Fred Aminzadeh, co-author of the report, is an oil and gas industry employee. He also serves as executive director for USC's Global Network.

Olsen didn't tell us the report she quoted was fueled by Big Oil money. Neither did she mention some of the consequences that have already happened in Montana, Colorado, Pennsylvania and other states where hydraulic fracturing — fracking — is generating pollution faster than jobs.

The fracking process requires pumping a million gallons of water underground and under pressure. It's the pressure that causes the fracturing in order to release oil and gas for extraction. In addition to water and sand, fracking involves blasting dozens of toxic substances under ground. Toxic fluids like ethylene glycol, boric acid, methanol and formaldehyde.

Freed up by the process are arsenic, hydrogen sulfide, mercury, radium and uranium. Many of these substances are known to cause cancer, nerve damage or respiratory problems. Seventy-five thousand gallons of deadly toxic chemicals are injected into each well. In Pennsylvania, 400,000 wells are planned in the next 10 years.

Poisonous chemicals contained in fracking fluid have wide-ranging health and environmental effects. Once injected into the ground they can seep into ground water and poison drinking water. When — not if, but when — the aquifer fills with toxins there is no way to undo the destruction of the water supply. Water produced by fracking contains high levels of radioactivity that wastewater treatment plants can't remove. More than 1,000 cases of water contamination have been associated with fracking.

These are chemicals that can kill you and are often accompanied by methane gas. Methane can exit the ground with tap water. Methane is explosive and breathing the flumes can cause vomiting and suffocation. In Pennsylvania a home blew up and killed three people.

Half of the chemicals used in fracking affect the brain and nervous system, the other half affect the skin, eyes and respiratory systems.

On April 8, a federal judge ruled the Bureau of Land Management failed to fully consider the environmental impact of fracking, stopping work in Fresno and Monterey counties.

If the water in California is subject to pollution, the food we grow will be subject to pollution as well. Food is the strategic resource grown in the San Joaquin Valley and must be protected.

Bearden is a retired county social worker and current real estate agent who formerly served on the Empire school board. Send comments or questions to

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