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March 15 Don't Frack CA Rally I’m thinking to myself, “Man, I wish I could get a bird’s eye view of this!” I was one among thousands (estimates ranging from 2000 to 4000+) of so-called “fractivists” in Sacramento on March 15 for what is being called the largest anti-fracking demonstration in California history.

The participants were a diverse mix of folks from all over California who managed to encircle the Capitol building, bringing a simple message to Governor Jerry Brown and legislators: fracking poses too high a risk to our water, air, food, climate, and health to be considered a ‘safe, alternative’ energy option – time to ban it in California!

I squirreled my way as close as I could to the stage at the north steps of the Capitol building, amidst an ocean of anti-fracking signs such as “No Fracking Way” and “Climate Leaders Don’t Frack!”

(Note to self: ‘Don’t poke your eye out with the corners of protest signs.’)Don't Frack CA Rally2

The rally was organized by Californians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition of more than 150 organizations, including 350.org, CREDO, Food and Water Watch, Oil Change International, Greenpeace, Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, Ecological Farming Association, and others. Over 20 buses were chartered to bring people from all over California.

Fracking – short for hydraulic fracturing — is a method of oil and gas production that involves injecting a concoction of millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals, under high pressure deep into the earth in order to break up rock formations, allowing oil and gas to be released more easily.

It struck me – this was not a typical Bay Area crowd of aging environmentalists or raging grannies (though they were there too) and young radicals (though they were here as well). In addition to those who might self-identify as environmentalists, these were farmers, nurses, fishermen, students, academics, indigenous groups, and citizens from both California’s cities and from rural Central Valley, which is bearing the brunt of fracking activities.

Students at Don't Frack CA RallyStudents were well-represented at the rally. Wes Adrianson and Kristy Drutman, representing UC Berkeley Students Against Fracking, didn’t mince words: “Don’t frack our future! We may be young, but we are powerful!”

They targeted Governor Brown specifically, saying that the environmental reputation he may have with others is well-lost on their generation if he continues to support fracking. “We won’t remember your environmental triumphs of the ‘70s. We weren’t even born then,” Wes said. “But we’ll remember how you sold out our generation and future generations to industry with no regard for the environment or human health.”

Tom Frantz, a Kern County almond farmer and clean air advocate, told the crowd in an inspiring speech: “If you are eating carrots, lettuce, tomatoes from California, you are eating foods from fields where fracking is happening right now.” Frantz is among a growing number of farmers — concerned about the unnecessary waste of water in an already water-stressed region — who are calling for a fracking moratorium.

“They don’t clean or recycle this water,” Frantz lamented. “It’s simply contaminated, then put deep within the earth forever! We’ll never see it again. It’s gone from the water cycle. We cannot continue to grow food and breathe healthy air and maintain a healthy water supply…the only “winners” I see are those making the short-term profits. Everyone else is losing!”

Another farmer, a Mexican-American man from the Central Valley, spoke to the crowd in Spanish, translated by Rodrigo Romo of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment: “I’m worried about the health of my children, the health of my grandchildren! I’m worried what this is doing to the farmlands themselves; how it’s affecting the future viability of the soil itself!”

Pennie Opal Plant, an indigenous activist and small business owner from Richmond, who is active in the Bay Area affinity group Idle No More, spoke elegantly about indigenous resistance to not just fracking, but fossil fuel extraction across North and South America. Speaking of Mother Earth, Plant said, “We are not her failed experiment. That is not what we are. We are her immune response.” See her speech here.

It turns out others were able to get a bird’s-eye-view from above (Image Credit:  Ray Breaux, 350.org)

It turns out others were able to get a great bird’s-eye view (Image Credit: Ray Breaux, 350.org)

Elise Gyore, Legislative Director for State Senator Holly Mitchell, took to the stage to plug fracking moratorium legislation (SB1132) and to urge Californians to call and write their representatives to support it. The bill, sponsored by California State Senators Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno, would place a moratorium on fracking and well stimulation, including a newer technique called acidization, both onshore and offshore, until the state Natural Resources Agency completed a study (mandated by last year’s fracking bill SB4) and Governor Brown ensures that fracking and well stimulation are not harmful to California’s public health and the environment.

She also urged people to come to the public hearing in the Senate Natural Resources Committee on April 8 at 9:30am at the Capitol.

I wanted to give a shout-out to the legendary Pete Seeger, who passed away earlier this year. He no doubt would have been in Sacramento in solidarity — as he was in New York — leading fractivists in song and spirit.

Click here for a great round-up of coverage of the event. And on Twitter dial into the hashtag #DontFrackCA.

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Guest Blog by Gustavo Aguirre Jr.

8 AM: Tuesday, March 18th 2014

A resident in Arvin, CA gets a knock at the door.

A staff person with the Kern County Public Health Department greets the homeowner and states to her that there is very high level (later known to be explosive levels) of gas leaking into her home from a broken pipeline underneath the home. The county worker suggests to the homeowner that it might be a good idea to leave the residence, but only on a voluntary basis, for her own health benefit. Then the county worker walks to the next house, and so on for a total of eight homes.

The county worker did not state it was an emergency, so the family stayed home and continued on with their daily routine.

This resident and her family had been smelling a very strong odor of gas for about three months, mainly coming in from electricity outlets; however she never reported it because she did not know where to report it.

Arvin residents in that area of Nelson Court, had seen PG&E drilling holes in and around their homes and yards the week before, thinking nothing of it. The homeowners assumed that PG&E was fixing the gas leak.

3 PM: March 18, 2014

As a community organizer, I Gustavo Aguirre Jr, working with GCM visited a total of five homes in Nelson Court.  ALL OF the residents that I visited confirmed that they had smelled the gas for about 2 to 3 months and were growing concerned with the situation.  Why did it take 2 to 3 months to detect a major gas leak?! Why were residents not warned IMMEDIATELY that the levels of gas in their homes had reached explosive levels?!

6 PM: March 18, 2014

Arvin City Council held their regular meeting, however this meeting was much less routine.  With a heavy media presence, Kern County Supervisor, Leticia Perez, and the Director of Public Health, Matt Constantine, stated and pleaded to the Council that an emergency evacuation for the eight homes on Nelson Court was of the highest priority. 

6:50 PM: March 18, 2014

With the homeowner’s permission, I took an a Bucket sample (air sample) at a residence on Nelson Court.

7 PM: March 18, 2014

Once they made their concerns public, both Mrs. Perez and Mr. Constantine left the meeting to witness the emergency evacuation of all eight homes, including those where the explosive levels of gas were detected. It was then when a resident of one of the homes invited me in to take a Bucket sample (air quality sample) of a room with a very heavy gas odor.

However, only the residents of those eight homes were told of the emergency evacuation.  Many of the folks living just across the street are under the impression that there is little danger to their health and safety.

What the community members still don’t understand is, why did the County wait until 7pm to decide that this was an emergency situation? Especially, if they knew that levels of gas were already at explosive levels at 8am that morning!

In the same home where I took the Bucket air sample, one resident stated, “My pregnant daughter is the one who sleeps in the room with the highest smell of gas, last week she got up to use the restroom and while she was walking to the restroom she passed out on the floor.” This same resident stated that she had been feeling sick these past weeks and now she might believe it has to do with the contestant exposure to the gases from the broken pipeline. However, aside from “high levels of gas” no other information was given to the residents on what they may have been exposed over that time.

According to news reports, Kern County Environmental Health said the line is a field gas line, not natural gas. This basically means it’s a waste oil field gas going to flared, or burned off.

According to the county, until the leak, Petro Capital Resources had no idea the line existed even though it was in use.

The County is unclear how long the leak has been going on. It took several days to track down the owner, a problem it said is common because there is no one agency that keeps track of all underground pipelines.

In two of the eight homes evacuated, two households have pregnant women and are concerned for the health of their families and themselves.

The following day, after the families were evacuated, myself, Gustavo Aguirre and Juan Florez from Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, visited the families at the hotel (paid for by Petro Capital Resources), they all relayed the urgency to return home and have the county provide a health impact assessment.

We’re expecting the results of the air sample to be back from the laboratory in a few days.  Stay tuned, results will be released Monday, March 24, 2014…………

In late February, GCM made its maiden voyage to Jamaica to train two very different communities on our tried and true Bucket Brigade, as well as launching a few new monitoring tools from our toolkit – water & soil monitoring. IMG_0774 (640x480) (640x480)P1010858 (480x640)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, the sunburn has faded and the nasty head-cold, that seemed to be passing on island time, has finally run its course.  So, here’s what we learned:

1.   Jamaicans are awesome.

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From the time we arrived to the day we left, everyone that we worked with was very well organized and ready to take the Bucket Brigade project head on.  Our training packed churches and schoolhouses, and everyone was interested in participating.

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For this project, GCM partnered with the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), an an environmental education and advocacy organization that has been working with communities all over the country. 

The two JET staff members that are

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coordinating the project are not only lawyers, but also fierce community organizers.  Together we identified two heavily impacted communities, planned the project out with the community leaders, tied up (almost all of) the logistics and set out on a walking tour of the neighborhoods to get a better idea of sampling locations.

AND – these folks are most definitely experts of their community!  They told us all about the sediment slide, caused by Caribbean Cement Company and their gypsum mine in the Ten Miles community, in 2002 as they were shepherding me down to 

eroded river bed.  They remembered every detail from 2002 while alerting me to every loose rock where I could lose my footing.  The dust in this community is so bad that you can see it rising up through the trees from the bottom of the mountain, right in front of an elementary school. 

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The other community tour was no different with the community leaders expressing deep concern regarding the overflow of wastewater from Jamalco’s  aluminium mine, while pulling me out of the way of an angry (and kicking!) donkey.

Bottom line: These folks have what it takes to be successful – knowledge, persistence and determination.  They are ready to take on community monitoring with the Bucket Brigade; they just need the tools to do it.

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3.   The Red Stripe tastes better.

Unfortunately, Lagunitas Brewing Company has yet to expand their distribution market to Jamaica.  DO NOT PANIC!  The Red Stripe beer actually tastes much better in Kingston than anywhere I’ve tried it in the States.

Also worth noting, if given a choice between eating Saltfish and Ackee or a Lobster Patty, go with the Lobster Patty!  Although Saltfish and Ackee is delicious, the Lobster Patties are by far the best thing I’ve ever consumed in my life; and honestly you’ll have multiple opportunities to try the Saltfish and Ackee, but never pass up goat curry cooked by the native villagers.

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4.   Industry will be industry.

Over the years, we at GCM have seen lots of different industry, but more often than not, the company’s main focus is “dollars and cents, instead of common sense”.  And, unfortunately, this careless company principle crosses many borders.  From toxic waste water overflow in New Town from the aluminium refinery, to toxic waste sediment in Bull Bay  from the gypsum mine; environmental injustice is worldwide.

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BUT – so is the crazy idea that community organizing can change that and recreate a truly sustainable environment for the next generation.

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