Activists Call for Fracking Ban in Orange County

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Orange County activists are calling for a complete ban on fracking locally until the oil extraction method is further studied, and this week their took their message to the county’s top elected officials.

Local residents and activists went to Tuesday’s county supervisors meeting this week and demanded a meeting with Chairman Nelson to discuss the issue.

Fracking is happening “directly over a freshwater aquifer that supplies drinking water to 2.4 million citizens of Orange County,” said Yorba Linda resident Carol Levers, adding that the process involves pumping large amounts of toxic water underground.

“It’s a public health concern,” said Alex Nagy, a Southern California organizer for Food and Water Watch.

Activists are asking officials to “start having that conversation about what really is going on,” added Nagy, who presented what she described as 2,500 signatures for a petition against fracking in Orange County.

At the same time, a petroleum industry representative urged supervisors to allow numerous state studies and regulations to play themselves out before considering local regulations.

“Robust regulations” govern the industry, said Peter Whittingham, who spoke on behalf of the Western States Petroleum Association, the largest oil and gas advocacy group in California.

“It’s important to separate the fact from fiction” and focus on science, he added.

Whittigham disputed concerns about groundwater contamination, saying there has never been a documented case linked to fracking in California.

“We would urge caution on this approach,” he said. “We believe the state should be given an opportunity to fully” research fracking.

Supervisors, meanwhile, showed no interest in taking up the issue Tuesday. After nine people – including the industry rep – spoke about fracking, supervisors did not address the comments or schedule further discussion.

Chairman Shawn Nelson, meanwhile, has said fracking regulations properly belong at the state and federal level.

“The state really needs to be setting the standards, probably with the EPA’s help,” Nelson told a Voice of OC reporter on Monday, referring to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

“This isn’t the place to solve that problem. [It] doesn’t mean I don’t care,” he added. “At the end of the day the Board [of Supervisors] has no authority.”

One activist even threatened to launch a recall effort against supervisors.

“I have not been responded to,” said Fountain Valley resident Jeremy Cohen, who said he had sent a letter to each supervisor’s office. “I have sent follow up letters.”

“This is unacceptable behavior, to ever dismiss or not talk to a constituent,” added Cohen, a representative of the Orange County Coalition Against Fracking.

Speakers said they were concerned about fracking potentially contaminating groundwater and unleashing earthquakes.

Fracking has become a major debate topic in north Orange County recently, in the wake of state water officials disclosing several wells in the area have been fracked. Most of those wells are in oil fields in an unincorporated area of Orange County just north of Brea.

In Yorba Linda, fracking has taken place in wells in the middle of a residential neighborhood, according to data from state water regulators.

As it becomes more and more difficult for oil and gas to be extracted through traditional methods, companies have been turning to fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals underground to break up rock formations containing fuel.

The method has been praised as the possible trigger for an economic boom that will create millions of jobs nationwide and help shift America off of its dependence on foreign energy sources.

But fracking has also come under intense scrutiny for its potential environmental impacts. Communities close to natural gas fracking operations in the northeast U.S. have claimed their groundwater wells were contaminated with chemicals and methane.

On Tuesday, activists said they want more study of the issue before fracking is allowed to continue.

“Please give us a meeting on this, it’s very important,” Orange resident Karl Greenblatt.

“If evidence can show that fracking is not a problem I would certainly want to listen to it,” said Greg Diamond, a Democratic party activist who lives in Brea.

“From this day forward, when it comes to fracking you can never say you’ve never been told.”

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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