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David O. McKay Center for Intercultural Understanding

Peace Ecology: Fighting for the Environment in Your Home

Hi. I am a peacebuilding student in my last semester of the Peacebuilding program and I wanted to take a moment to share one of my favorite Peacebuilding classes with you. This class is taught by Professor David Whippy and is offered in the Spring as IPB 322 Peace Ecology.

During the semester, you discuss different environmental issues that affect the peace of the land, animals, and people in a community. It is a combination of peace and environment studies. It explores the long-term benefits of an environmental consciousness balanced with senses of peace. This course helped me realize the interconnectedness of each being. If we are to attain complete and total peace, we need to focus on each factor that contributes to it.

At the conclusion of the course, we were asked to take a look at our own backyard and focus on an environmental issue that can be helped towards a better solution. I come from the beautiful Santa Barbara county of Sunny California and the environmental issue I chose to discuss was Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing. I hope you can bear with me as I discuss this Peace ecology journey of exploring my own home.

When it comes to hydraulic fracturing, controversy arises. Some say that it is too risky and dangerous, others say it is better for the environment, and the answer is never really clear. Santa Barbara had been facing some difficult decisions as the federal government of the United States of America has proposed to open 122,000 acres of land in Santa Barbara County which is included with the 1,011,470 acres of public land throughout central California affecting Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Tulare, and Ventura. This proposal by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) breaks the five-year moratorium on leasing public land to oil companies. (Debra Herrick, np).

As a born and raised citizen of Santa Barbara, I felt very threatened by this proposal. How can the government claim my land, the land that has been sustaining life since the Chumash settled there over 13,000 years ago? We had just faced natural disasters that took a toll on our community and our land. The Thomas Fire, one of the largest California fires in history, burning 31,000 acres in less than twelve hours. And not long after that, five minutes away from my home, the Montecito Mudslides hit, killing at least 21 people from our community. We are in the process of healing as a community even today, and to have this proposition seems like the straw that is going to break the camel’s back.

However, as I looked closer into what Hydraulic Fracturing actually is, I felt less threatened and more empowered in knowing what to do about this proposal. Santa Barbara citizens are concerned that the explorative fracking in their land is too close to school grounds, state parks, city-owned nature reserves, Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument, will pollute our water systems and city, and create a toll on the community. In order to get clarity on the right step forward, I took a journey of trying to understand the effects of fracking in Santa Barbara and how it will harm or benefit our community.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth vertically creating a wellbore. When the well reaches 2,500 to 3,000 meters down it begins the process of horizontal drilling for about 1.5 kilometers into the shale rock formation located beneath the earth’s surface. Afterward, millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals are injected at high pressure to create fissures or breaks in the shale rock to break up the ground and release natural gas. The sand in the mixture allows the fissures to remain open allowing the oil to seep into the well. The oil is then extracted by pumping the well.

On average, fracking uses 3-6 million gallons of water per well and disposing of used fracking water can be a complicated process. Millions of gallons of flowback liquid come gushing up out of the manmade wells and this liquid contains radioactive material, salts, heavy metals, and hydrocarbons that need to be disposed of. This can be done in pits on-site in deep wells or off-site in water treatment facilities or it can be recycled, but the recycling process increases contamination since the water becomes more toxic with each use. In order to prevent contamination in water wells, the fracking wells are encased by steel. However, any negligence or fracking-related accidents can have devastating effects. These effects are the contamination of drinking water by fracking directly into underground water where hazardous underground seepage and leakage can appear or the inadequate treatment and disposal of highly toxic waste. (Mia Nacamulli, np). Another effect that can appear from fracking is the threat of earthquakes and long-term underground pressure imbalances. When a land has been fracked, there are always signs of increased seismic activity and there are still many unresolved questions on what might be happening deep beneath our feet.

The biggest controversy over Fracking is because fracking involves the burning of natural gas, it is better for the environment than coal-burning and nuclear energy. For example, fracking emits 50% less carbon dioxide than coal burning. However, fracking is still not a renewable energy source and it still pollutes the environment. Methane gas leaks out during the drilling and pumping process and is many times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Although, some scientists argue that methane gas eventually dissipates and has a relatively low impact, but the question lies in wondering if fracking takes time, money, and research away from the development of cleaner renewable energy sources?

However, because fracking is better for the environment than many of our current processes of gaining energy it is a better alternative and because our world is an oil-driven world, if it isn’t fracked the oil will be found in other forms, forms more detrimental to the environment. And if we take away all of our other current forms of mining oil for energy, there will be a huge economic decline, which in turn increases an environment not conducive for developing more sustainable renewable energy. “Despite the environmental consequences of fracking, the economic growth from it may prove to be a crucial piece of the puzzle in renewable energy integration.” (Owen Reynolds, np). Only a sustainable economy could allow for a smooth transition.

I am not saying I am for fracking in Santa Barbara because there are still serious environmental issues that can arise. I am specifically worried about possible contamination of our drinking water and the additional water it will take to power the fracking process. We just recently came out of a historic seven-year drought period and while water supplies have improved, we still need to conserve our current supply to fully recover from the impacts of the drought and to preserve water supplies for future dry years. (City of Santa Barbara). I am worried that fracking will deplete our water sources only to be hit another drought.

There needs to be some careful consideration of where exactly the proposed land is. Some of the land includes a 40-acre parcel near Carpinteria’s Cate School. Another parcel is in the headwaters of Nojoqui Creek, near Nojoqui falls and there are two more areas near Lake Cachuma. These locations are too close to water sources or too close to schools where we wouldn’t want pollution. Graciela Cabello, director of youth and community outreach for Los Padres Forest Watch says, “We are extremely concerned about the administration’s plans to open more than 1 million acres of public lands and mineral estate in Central California for fossil fuel drilling and fracking. The plan targets some of the region’s most treasured landscapes, our water supplies, our favorite trails, our scenic views, our wildlife habitat, our tourism, and outdoor recreation.”

Previously no new leases have been issued by BLM in California because a federal judge first ruled that the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by issuing oil leases in Monterey County without considering the environmental dangers of the fracking process. However, because of new advancements in the fracking industry, namely the ability to drill even deeper into the earth, water contamination is no longer as big of a threat but it still takes a lot of water to power the job. The problem is that we need to consider where we will get our power if it does not involve fracking.

In the United States, we would rely on our already made coal-burning facilities and nuclear power plants. Both are more harmful to the environment than Fracking. If we do not use our energy resources, then we will have to buy energy from other countries. This can lead to some tough negotiations if people can hold oil as a bartering chip against us. We would have to trade with countries who perhaps do not account for human justice and this we do not support. By having our own way of getting oil, we would be self-sufficient and make sure that we are not giving countries whose values threaten our way of life an easier way of taking advantage of our country and others.

The question does not rely on no fracking, it is knowing where we can frack with the least amount of damage. Although fracking is harmful to the environment, it seems an inevitable and necessary for now in order to allow time for technology advancements that will provide us with renewable and environmentally safe energy sources. Which we are super close to gaining. I propose that our community bands together to fight against fracking in places that are too close to water sources and our schools and figure out places that are less of a risk. I also believe that we should regulate the minimum amount of drills needed to meet our needs, and make sure that the drilling regulates locations that will not threaten our water supply. If our water supply is threatened and there are no possible places that will be free of running the risk of water contamination and air pollution, Santa Barbara should continue to fight back against the federal government’s proposal and save the land.

As you can see, in some cases there aren’t such black and white solutions. But discovering how we can make the best environmental impact is exciting and an avenue of peace that is essential to creating world peace. If you are passionate about the environment, I highly recommend taking the Peace Ecology course from Professor David Whippy. This can help you see how your peacebuilding theories can extend into an even broader area of study.