Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Fresno fracking opponents join worldwide protest

Fresno fracking opponents demonstrated last weekend as part of “Global Frackdown2,” a worldwide effort to oppose injecting chemical-laden water into the ground to open up oil-bearing rocks.

The opposition is stirred by fears of drinking water contamination and overburdening existing water supply.

The demonstration was led by Fresnans Against Fracking. The group, like many other opposition organizations, wants to see a moratorium on fracking — a shorthand name for hydraulic fracturing.

The local group is asking for the Fresno City Council and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors to pass an ordinance to enforce a moratorium.

In the San Joaquin Valley, this is no small issue.

Along the western edge of the Valley, there are deep shale rock formations that hold an estimated 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

That is an attractive prospect to local leaders. Many thousands of jobs could be created, and there would be a tax bonanza.

Many public officials are courting the idea, but environmentalists have been hammering it. They say the practice needs to be thoroughly studied first.

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 4, the first fracking law in California. It requires oil companies to obtain permits for fracking as well as acidizing, the use of hydrofluoric acid and other chemicals to dissolve shale rock.

It also requires notification of neighbors, public disclosure of the chemicals used, as well as groundwater and air quality monitoring and an independent scientific study.

Neither side of the debate likes the law. The oil industry opposed the bill, saying it goes to far in regulating their work. Environmentalists generally opposed it as well, saying it is not nearly protective enough.

In Fresno, Gary Lasky, president of Fresnans Against Fracking, says there is not enough known yet about the impacts to the water and air. He said the groundwater and air should be protected before fracking is allowed.

Time to regulate underground water quality on farms

A dreaded time has arrived for some farmers in the San Joaquin Valley — enforcement of the state’s new underground water quality regulations.

Thousands of farmers north of the San Joaquin River will be the first in the Valley to experience it. Farmers on 1.1 million acres in Madera, Merced and Stanislaus counties are being told to sign up for it.

This campaign does not yet include farmers in Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties, but the enforcement will come to their land in the next year or so, according to the state.

The program is necessary, say environmentalists and activists for rural towns with drinking water wells in farm country. They say water needs to be protected fertilizers, pesticides and other possible threats.

Rural Valley towns have some of the most fouled water in the state.

Farmers fear extra costs of this new program. They’ve had a decade to worry about it as the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board prepared the rules and enforcement.

To help farmers, ease the cost and organize the regulation, state leaders have allowed coalitions to represent broad areas. The East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition will represent the Madera, Merced and Stanislaus counties, according to the regional board.

The coalition has about 2,500 members, but there are several thousand more farmers who are not part of the group yet. If they sign up by May 14, their costs will be $50 for annual dues and a $4 per acre for water sampling and expertise in the paperwork the state requires.

The costs probably will be different for other coalitions in the Valley, depending on the need for monitoring, evaluation and cleanup.

But farmers who go it alone without coalitions will pay more, state leaders say. On their own, farmers will have to get individual permits from the state and pay for their own consultants to do the work.

For more information about the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition, call (209) 522-7278 or go to www.esjcoalition.org.