California farmers, grappling with a record drought that’s parching their fields and livelihoods, call on Gov. Brown (D-CA) to place a moratorium on the water-intensive extreme oil and gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Yesterday afternoon, 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 Gov. Brown’s office signed by 145 California farmers calling for a moratorium on fracking.

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Back row left to right: almond farmer Tom Frantz, FWW California Director Adam Scow, Mike Greene and Bob McFarland of California State Grange President. Front row: Paula Getzelman of Tre Gatti Vineyards, Chez Panisse Head Chef Jerome Waag, FWW San Francisco Local Coordinator Susan Kuehn.
Photo credit: Food & Water Watch

Water is the lifeblood of a farm—without clean, affordable water we cannot grow food,” said 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 Gov. Brown wants to leave behind.”

The farmers were joined by Jerome Waag, head chef of the legendary Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, 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.

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 primarily agricultural Central Valley. 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.

“When farmers cannot irrigate their land, their workers lose their jobs and local economies suffer. Some never recover,” said California State Grange President Bob McFarland. “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.”

Two weeks ago, President Obama, with Gov. Brown by his side, visited the Central 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.

Meanwhile, Gov. Brown continues to stand behind SB 4, the legislation he signed into law last fall that paves the way for expanded fracking and other forms of extreme oil extraction from the Monterey Shale, which is believed to hold as much as 13 billion barrels of crude oil. 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.

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Graphic courtesy of Earthjustice

“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.”  

In addition to making the threat of climate change worse, fracking, along with related drilling, wastewater disposal and other extreme 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 fisheries in danger. And a recent study in the United Kingdom 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.

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

“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 Gov. Brown to place a moratorium on fracking to protect California farmers from the severe threat of fracking.”

“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, Gov. Brown should halt fracking in our state to protect the air we breathe and the water we so desperately need.”

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.

Polls show that the majority of Californians are opposed to fracking. Since the launch of Californians Against Fracking in May 2013, more than 200,000 petitions have been signed urging Gov. Brown to ban fracking in California. Farmers, environmental justice groups, public health advocates, local elected officials, students, celebrities and many others are calling on Gov. Brown to halt fracking in California. 

The record breaking drought has taken a tremendous toll on the state of California. Below is a stunning photo essay compiled by Earthjustice, which includes Shafter almond farmer Tom Frantz:

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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