On Saturday, May 3 in partnership with Clean Water Action, and the Sierra Club’s Kern-Kaweah Chapter in Bakersfield, Earthworks planned a screening of Josh Fox’s critically acclaimed Gasland II. Calvin Tillman, former Mayor of Dish, Texas, whose family's difficulties with the fracking-enabled oil and gas industry are highlighted in the documentary, was present to answer questions.
The showing was meant to be an opportunity for Kern County residents to educate themselves about fracking's impacts. However, after a leaked email from Blair Knox of the California Independent Petroleum Association revealed that industry wanted to pack the venue in order to inhibit debate, the screening turned into much more.
In California, the industry is eager to begin fracking the estimated 13.7 billion barrels of oil underlying the state’s Monterey Shale. Thousands of wells were fracked over the past few years, according to FracFocus.org, the industry-funded website for voluntary reporting. Since January 1, 2014, when SB4 took effect requiring the permitting of hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation techniques, hundreds of applications have been submitted to frack in California. Many of these applications have been approved, with the majority of them being granted in Kern County.
Kern County suffers from some of the worst air quality in the country, and is often found in non-attainment of federal and state air quality standards. Due to drought, farmers often find themselves fallowing their lands until water can be allocated to their crops. People of low-income, minorities, and disadvantaged communities often find themselves in the middle, and bear the brunt of uncontrolled development, adding to the troubles of environmental and social justice already plaguing Kern County.
During the screening of the movie, we were unfortunately plagued by technical difficulties. Several laptops that we were attempting to use to play the DVD, would not work properly. Although most people were patient and understood, pro-industry attendees became restless, and chose to attack our efforts to hold an educational program which we hoped could lead to an open and honest dialogue about fracking in Kern.
On Twitter, we were criticized by fracking industry backers with the #jobsforkern hash.
For better or worse, these backers are largely mistaken. Fracking jobs in other states have gone to out-of-state workers who already have experience working that type of project. In states such as Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and influx of out-of-state workers has caused high prices in housing, increased crime, and higher levels of unemployment for local communities. If those states are any indication, there will be few #jobsforkern.
Along with our partners, we want many #jobsforkern! Yet the jobs we want for them are clean, sustainable jobs that will bring about real economic change for the community. And as the University of Massachusetts's Political Economy Research Institute research demonstrates, a dollar invested in wind and solar creates twice as many jobs as a dollar invested in fossil fuels, including natural gas.
Kern County finds itself at the crossroads. The county’s oil fields are currently being fracked, and are slated for a massive expansion of fracking and other types of well stimulation. Citizens need to have an open and honest dialogue about what this could mean for their health, environment, and economic sustainability.
Although technical difficulties did not allow us to finish the movie, the discussion that arose between residents and pro-industry supporters was, according the Bakersfield Californian, “what may have been the most open fracking debate in Bakersfield history.” We welcome a continued dialogue and debate with pro-industry supporters, the public, the industry, and other environmental groups. An open and honest discussion on the true effects of fracking on health and the environment is in the public interest.
Let’s put the health and safety of Kern County, and all California, first.