OPINION: I’m an environmentalist, and I’m pro-local fracking

I was the president of my high school environmental club. When I said I wouldn’t be attending an anti-fracking march we had been invited to because I was pro-local fracking, half of the club members refused to speak to me for the rest of the month.

I’m aware of the valid objections to my argument, and I spent a lot of time considering counter-arguments. But, I still believe people should think twice before getting in their cars to dutifully drive to an anti-fracking protest.

I’ll put the outline of my argument right off the bat. I’m pro-local fracking for the following three reasons.

One, NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome. If counties ban fracking but maintain the same rate of fossil fuel consumption, it just means the oil is coming from someone else’s community. This phenomenon exacerbates social inequality.

Two, exposure prompts change. It’s a lot harder for people to continue with traditional fossil fuel consumption when they have to see its effects with their own eyes. Local fracking would encourage people to seek and innovate alternative forms of transportation and consumption, therefore making it better for the environment in the long term.

Three, energy independence means fewer international wars. Much of the political instability in the Middle East is tied to the oil industry and the United States’ involvement in it.  

I’m from Santa Cruz, California, a city on the Monterey Bay. It’s beautiful. There is incredible diversity of biological wildlife and geographical features.

The natural beauty of the area has also attracted wealth: The 2016 average household incomes in Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties were $68,511 and $77,613, respectively, according to DataUSA, compared to the average U.S. household income of $55,322.

According to CBS San Francisco, the land surrounding the Monterey Bay holds a potential 14 billion barrels of oil that could be extracted via hydraulic fracturing.

In the 2016 elections, Monterey County Measure Z proposed a ban on fracking. When it passed, Monterey County became the first oil-producing county in California to ban fracking and expansion of risky oil operations.

Proponents of the measure took the stance that a ban on fracking was a prioritization of environmental and public health over corporate profit. The opponents of the measure (funded primarily by Chevron and Aera Energy) spent over $5.5 million dollars trying to convince voters of their argument that Measure Z would put hundreds of local jobs and millions of dollars in local revenue at risk.

While this is a valid argument, I believe the opponents could have used an even more compelling argument: that a ban on local fracking perpetuates fossil fuel use and exacerbates the injustices of its consequences.

If all the counties that can afford to take the time and money to campaign for bans on fracking do so, then the only counties left with fracking facilities will be those counties that can’t afford to stop them. Most of America’s poorest towns today are those stuck with the remnants of the toxic industrial era of the early 20th century.    

Wealthier counties are also more likely to be heavier car users than that of public transportation. If we continue to be dependent on fossil fuels but force other communities to pay the price of the environmental destruction, it comes with the implication that some people’s health is more important than others’ and that the land they live on is more important than other land. As long as we are dependent on fossil fuels, we should also be forced to witness the direct effects of our dependence.

If Monterey residents had to look at a huge hydraulic fracturing drill in the middle of the sparkling blue bay on their way to work, they might think twice before buying another SUV. If the time and effort that was put into a ban on fracking was instead put into demanding better bike paths and an electric train system, I think we would be headed in a much better direction.

History has repeatedly shown that people begin to act and demand change when problems are dragged out from under the rug into the open. As a photojournalist, I know visual exposure of ugly problems has the power to prompt major shifts in public sentiment and enact direct policy changes.

If Americans are so opposed to having hydraulic fracturing on our own soil, we will continue to play a major role in the extraction of oil from countries in the Middle East. History has shown us that the more the United States is involved in foreign affairs, the more conflicts and casualties seem to arise, as well as a rise in anti-Muslim hate and fear.

Many people will argue it would be better to ban fracking everywhere first, then work on non-fossil-fuel solutions. I agree it’s scary to welcome the destruction of the beautiful land I know and love, and with only the hope that doing so will move people to action.

I also believe that a price has to be paid for the consumption-heavy lifestyle we have been living. I’d rather pay that price myself than force someone else to do it for me

So here’s my call to action: Next time you see that email from your local oh-so-earnest Sierra Club chapter inviting you to support an anti-fracking campaign in your city, try speaking up about your concerns. Ask the challenging questions that are easier to ignore.

I can guarantee people will get angry or dismiss you, but that’s a small price to pay for standing up for what you really believe in. Be courageous. Feel the ground shake beneath your feet.

Chloe Ortiz PZ ’21 is majoring in Environmental Justice and Corporate Finance.

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