By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
FARMERSVILLE – Farmersville became the first city to formally oppose the federal government’s plan to begin fracking in the central valley.
At its May 13 meeting, the Farmersville City Council unanimously approved a resolution opposing new oil leases on federal land in the County of Tulare and calling for a “ban on new drilling, fracking, and other dangerous drilling techniques on federal land and mineral estate.” The resolution stated that oil drilling production and transport presents “a clear and ever-present danger to the health and safety of residents, businesses and economies, with the threat of an oil spill potentially wreaking havoc on ecosystems, on human health, and economic activities.”
The resolution goes on to state that oil and gas production consumes and threatens the County’s limited water supplies and that those living near fossil fuel production “bear a heavy and unjust pollution burden, including air pollution,” and that it has a significant impact on climate change. It also stated that fracking, and other dangerous drilling techniques, are linked to health concerns, air and water pollution, and harm to wildlife.
“Even though it probably won’t be in the city, it still could affect our water supply and that is something we need to protect,” Mayor Greg Gomez said. “There is the potential that the aquifer could be affected by fracking so we wanted to take a cautious approach to this issue.”
The resolution is in response to federal government’s plan to reopen more than a million acres of land in the Central Valley to fracking. On April 28, the Bureau of Land Management’s Bakersfield Field Office released its Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) proposing to open up 1,011,470 acres of public land and federal mineral estate in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties to fossil fuel extraction. If finalized, the plan would end California’s five-year moratorium on leasing federal public land to oil companies but will not open additional public lands or federal mineral estate to oil and gas leasing within the boundaries of the Bakersfield Field Office.
Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, is a technique used to extract natural gas from shale rock. Massive drills bore out holes thousands of feet beneath the surface. Hydraulic fluid, containing small amounts of chemical additives such as acid, is then pumped into the holes until the pressure causes the rock to crack, releasing the natural gas which flows up to the surface. According to the BLM, about 90 percent of new oil and gas wells on public lands are fracked.
The BLM has not issued a single lease in California since 2013, when a federal judge first ruled that the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by issuing oil leases in Monterey County without considering the environmental impacts of fracking.
A 2016 report commissioned by Congress and published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), found scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances. The report, based upon review of over 1,200 cited scientific sources, cited drinking water impacts near fracking wells ranging from temporary changes in water quality, to contamination that made private drinking water wells unusable. This is primarily due to hydraulic fluids injected into the ground that make their way into groundwater.
A 2015 report from the California Council on Science and Technology concluded that fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, dangerously close to underground drinking water supplies, with unusually high concentrations of toxic chemicals. The public lands at stake encompass “numerous groundwater systems that contribute to the annual water supply used by neighboring areas for agricultural and urban purposes,” a federal judge noted in 2016.
This is particularly concerning for Tulare County, which is one of the most shallow, over-drafted groundwater basins in the state and has a high concentration of disadvantaged communities already struggling with water supply and quality issues.
Later in the meeting, the council discussed having staff prepare an ordinance specifically banning oil drilling within the city limits of Farmersville. Councilmember Paul Boyer said he did have concerns with fracking as a method for extracting natural gas, but wanted to know if there were any drilling sites located near Farmersville before voting on an actual law.
“I don’t think there are any that close to US that relate to us,” Boyer said. “I’m not sure it would make sense for Farmersville to weigh in on it if it doesn’t have a chance of affecting us.”
The council directed staff to investigate if there were any sites close with drilling leases close to Farmersville and report back to the council at a future meeting.