California Family Farmers Band Together to Halt Fracking

By Dan Bacher | March 1, 2014 |  California family farmers, now struggling with a record drought that has been exacerbated by poor mana...

By Dan Bacher | March 1, 2014 | 

California family farmers, now struggling with a record drought that has been exacerbated by poor management of the state's reservoirs and rivers by the state and federal governments, are calling on Governor Jerry Brown to place a moratorium on the water-intensive oil and gas extraction process known as fracking or hydraulic fracturing. 

Governor Brown currently supports the expansion of environmentally destructive fracking operations in California, as well as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the fish-killing peripheral tunnels. 

On the afternoon of February 26, Shafter almond farmer Tom Frantz, California State Grange President Bob McFarland and Monterey County vintner Paula Getzelman of Tre Gatti Vineyards delivered a petition to Governor Brown’s office signed by 145 California farmers calling for a moratorium on fracking, according to a news release from Food and Water Watch and the Center for Biological Diversity, members of Californians Against Fracking. 

“Water is the lifeblood of a farm — without clean, affordable water we cannot grow food,” said Shafter almond farmer Tom Frantz, who caught on video the illegal dumping of fracking wastewater in an unlined pit next to an almond orchard. “This drought has already put many of California’s small and midsized farms on the brink. To allow fracking on some of California’s most fertile agricultural land will further devastate California’s bucolic heritage. I don’t think this is the legacy that Governor Brown wants to leave behind.” 

As a result of Frantz's video, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board on November 15, 2013 ordered an oil company, Vintage Production California LLC, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Company, to pay a $60,000 penalty for discharging hydraulic fracturing fluid into an unlined sump in violation of the California Water Code. 

The groups said California’s drought is "particularly devastating" to the state’s farmers who grow the bulk of America’s fruits, vegetables and nuts, especially those in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. 

"The State Water Project recently announced that it would be cutting off water deliveries for the first time in its 54-year history, and the federal government announced last week that farmers should expect to receive no water from the Central Valley Project. Additionally, the price for water has increased tenfold, from $135 an acre-foot last year to $1,350 an acre-foot in the second week of February," the release stated. 

California State Grange President Bob McFarland pointed out the impact of the drought on farmers and the economy. 

“When farmers cannot irrigate their land, their workers lose their jobs and local economies suffer," said McFarland. "Some never recover. Much of the world relies on the excellent produce and nuts grown in California, and our water should be used to grow this food and feed people, not wasted in a toxic extraction process to produce oil to be shipped overseas.” 

Jerome Waag, head chef of the legendary Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, joined the farmers to deliver a fracking moratorium petition signed by 171 chefs, restaurateurs, brewers, purveyors, retailers and winemakers from across California, including some of the most celebrated chefs in the world such as Alice Waters, Stuart Brioza, Chris Cosentino, Dominique Crenn, Suzanne Goin, Joyce Goldstein, Daniel Patterson and Annie Somerville, according to the two groups. 

On February 14, President Obama, accompanied by Governor Jerry Brown, visited the San Joaquin Valley to pledge $183 million in existing federal funds and to ask Congress for $1 billion in additional funds, linking the drought to climate change. Unfortunately, the only farmers he met with were corporate mega-growers irrigating drainage impaired lands on the west of the Valley - and he didn't meet with family farmers from the Delta, Sacramento Valley, San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere throughout the state. 

Ironically, Governor Brown, who has declared a drought emergency in California, continues to back Senator Fran Pavley's SB 4, the "green light for fracking" legislation he signed into law in September. This legislation paves the way for expanded fracking and other forms of extreme oil extraction from the Monterey Shale, believed to hold as much as 13 billion barrels of crude oil, according to the groups. 

The Monterey Shale sits beneath some of California’s most prized farmland. Extracting the estimated 13 billion barrels of oil would release about 7.7 billion more metric tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, further destabilizing our climate and exacerbating droughts, according to the release. 

“In the short term, fracking makes competition for California’s water even more fierce, which could have a significant negative effect on farmers, ranchers and vintners,” said Paula Getzelman, owner of Tre Gatti Vineyards in Monterey County. “But the long-term consequences of fracking are even more devastating. California needs to be investing in the people who cultivate the land and feed people, not the oil companies that threaten to pollute our land, water and communities.” 

The oil industry in California has constantly claimed that fracking for oil and natural gas is "safe" and doesn't harm the environment. 

"An honest appraisal of the science and common sense around hydraulic fracturing leads to a conclusion the technology we’ve used without harm in California for 60 plus years is safe and its benefits a blessing," said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called "marine protected areas" in Southern California, in 2013. "Oil drilling activities in California are strictly regulated by several agencies and the state’s oil producers are working closely with the government to develop even stronger protections to ensure the vast potential of the Monterey Shale can be realized. 

The groups, chefs and farmers contest this claim, noting that fracking, along with related drilling, wastewater disposal and other extraction methods like acidizing, has raised serious environmental and public health concerns across the country. Wastewater from fracking and drilling operations is regularly dumped or leaked into waterways, putting Central Valley salmon, Delta fish populations and ocean fisheries in danger. 

A recent study in the United Kingdom also found that pollution, such as diesel exhaust common in fracking operations, can harm bees. Tom Frantz recently captured video of bees pollinating almond trees adjacent to drilling operations. 

California, with more than 80,000 farms producing about $45 billion in annual profits, is the nation’s largest farm state, and agriculture is California’s leading industry. In states including Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio, grazing animals have gotten sick and died after drinking fracking runoff and water from farm wells near fracking operations. In California's Kern County, one farmer lost millions of dollars worth of almond and pistachio crops from groundwater contamination from a nearby oil and gas operation, the groups point out. 

“California needs an immediate halt to fracking to protect our state’s precious water from this toxic technique,” said Brian Nowicki of the Center for Biological Diversity. “To safeguard our farmers and others affected by our state’s crippling drought, Governor Brown should halt fracking in our state to protect the air we breathe and the water we so desperately need.” 

“Farmers are vital to a healthy food system and a healthy economy and they must be protected,” said Adam Scow, California campaigns director for Food & Water Watch. “We call on Governor Brown to place a moratorium on fracking to protect California farmers from the severe threat of fracking.” 

The petition was organized in conjunction with Food & Water Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity and other members of the statewide coalition Californians Against Fracking. 

Californians Against Fracking and other organizations will hold a massive rally in Sacramento on March 15 to press for a halt to fracking in the state. The event will take place at 1 PM at the California State Capitol, 1315 10th St., Sacramento, CA 95814. 

"Already, well over a thousand Californians have signed up to attend Don't Frack California, which will be the largest anti-fracking mobilization in California history -- but we need to make this rally even bigger," urged Zack Malitz of CREDO Action. Click here to RSVP

Since the launch of Californians Against Fracking in May 2013, more than 200,000 petitions have been signed urging Governor Brown to ban fracking in California. Farmers, environmental justice groups, public health advocates, local elected officials, students, celebrities and many others are calling on Governor Brown to halt fracking in California. More information can be found at 

Californians Against Fracking is a coalition of environmental, business, health, agriculture, labor, political and environmental justice organizations working to win a statewide ban on fracking in California. 

The farmer petition and list of farmers who have signed can be found here. 

The chef petition and list of chefs who have signed can be found here

Photos from the February 26 meeting and letter delivery to Governor Brown can be found at

Photo courtesy of Food and Water Watch and Center for Biological Diversity. 

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