A screenshot of some of the participants who joined the virtual event including County Supervisor Joan Hartmann, Chief of Staff Jefferson Litten, Professor Mahdavi, CALPIRG student interns and community members advocating for an end to oil drilling in California. | Credit: Courtesy

On Thursday, CALPIRG students on the UCSB Campus (California Public Interest Research Group) hosted a virtual screening of the Josh Fox documentary Gasland II along with guest speakers for a Q&A session to spark conversations about the consequences of fracking. Oil and gas drilling sites in California and other states contaminate our groundwater with over 220 identified carcinogens, and methane causing tap water to catch on fire. These harmful chemicals, gas, and fluids from hydraulic fracturing often leads to contamination of groundwater and residents’ sources of drinking water, an obvious sign that it isn’t safe to use, a high-risk threat to vulnerable communities.

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joan Hartmann opened the event with a comment on how she has always seen “UCSB to lead in sustainability,” and “CALPIRG has been a really important political player locally”. Supervisor Hartmann also mentioned CALPIRG’s nonpartisan New Voters Project and their work to make democracy more accessible during the 2020 election. She emphasized “who gets elected… determines which issues don’t (or do) come.” Chief of Staff to Supervisor Hartmann, Jefferson Litten, added “the work CALPIRG Student- Liam Horstick- had done with me to get community choice electricity was invaluable.”

“The fracking process also causes cracks in deep earth rock structures which has been linked to increased earthquakes which is especially dangerous on the San Andreas fault. Areas in California have even experienced a 10-fold increase in quake activity,” says End Oil Drilling Coordinator Handri Handoyo. “Living within 2 miles of a drilling site presents detrimental threats to peoples’ health. Currently, there are 5.4 million Californians living within 1 mile of a drilling site – that’s approximately 14% of all Californians. What makes matters worse is that 92% of that are communities of color,” says Anna Friedman CALPIRG intern.

Assistant Professor Paasha Mahdavi of the Political Science department discussed the effects of fracking, the accuracy of the documentary’s depictions of climate politics, how it relates to the indigenous, impactful activist methods, and environmental justice. “The long history of petroleum must come to an end,” Mahdavi went on to say, “even the cleanest form of gas extraction is problematic.” When asked “What can we do?” during the Q&A, he emphasized the need to plan and start conversions within “different levels of organization, different levels of activism… pressure your politicians and representatives on all levels… money may talk, but people talk more.” He explained how this issue, “has to stay a priority through calling, writing, emailing, Op-Eds, local newspapers…”

Currently, we are experiencing and causing anthropogenic climate change. While oil companies like ExxonMobil are pushing to continue these practices and begin new drilling projects in Cat Canyon and off-shore, students and faculty are speaking out against these dangerous practices near their schools and homes.

“The solution is simple; we need to quickly decarbonize our society and phase out all oil and gas drilling,” says Ms. Friedman. “We are advocating for a clear and committed statewide transition to 1) establish a 2500ft Public Protection Buffer from drilling sites. 2) Plan and commit to a

complete phase-out of all oil and gas drilling in the state of California prioritizing the banning of hydraulic fracturing. And 3) provide a fair and just transition for oil and gas workers to other industries.”

Governor Gavin Newsom is already looking towards these potential solutions. He has historically been a leader on environmental issues and sustainability, and the strongest governor in Californian history to acknowledge the dangers of oil and gas drilling. Just a few months ago, Governor Newsom called on the state’s legislature to ban hydraulic fracturing, which is an extremely dangerous form of fossil fuel extraction. Though this is the strongest stance a California governor has ever taken on the issue, it’s only the first step towards a cleaner and more sustainable future.

It would be quite exhilarating to follow in the footsteps of other states that have banned fracking and have him address the climate crisis head-on, quickly and efficiently. CALPIRG’s End Oil Drilling campaign will continue to build student support and amplify student voices for a ban through strong coalitional development, news media engagement, social media campaigns, and grassroots organizing. These efforts, all of which are remote during the pandemic, are to ultimately encourage our governor to lead us into a cleaner, more reliable future.

CALPIRG Students is a statewide student organization that works to defend the public interest.

Visit us at www.calpirgstudents.org


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