Young Johanna Romo of Kern County in California never made it to her first day in seventh grade. She has been hospitalized and has suffered three seizers, multiple nosebleeds and exhaustion by causes unknown to her, her family and even her doctors. Kern County in the Central Valley is home to large farms, intense heat and mass poverty. Fracking in the Central Valley has been occurring for over one hundred years, drilling for oil near homes and schools; one of which is 100 yards from little Johanna’s house. It is possible that her symptoms are due to chemicals used in farming or even the pollution from the oil wells; sadly there is no way for doctors to prove this.
Kern County produces 80 percent of the state’s oil, yet it is one of the poorest communities in California. In These Times reports that California census data shows that “22.5 percent of residents fall below the poverty line, significantly more than 15.3 percent statewide” and that “…51 percent of its 865,000 residents are Latino” and or immigrant farm workers. The majority of residents living within a mile of a well are of color, almost three-quarters. Due to the development of oil companies, the property value is so low it is driving those with less means to flock to the area, forcing the poor into unhealthy polluted living conditions.
There is scientific evidence that proves oil and natural gas fracking can release toxins into the environment. Workers and nearby residence are given little to no information regarding this issue, leaving them clueless to the risks they may be exposed to. In contradiction, oil and natural gas companies still claim that fracking is safe. There is also concern regarding ground water in the area. The EPA was under investigation for not properly protecting aquifers from pollution and making exceptions to the Safe Drinking Water Act. The government and large oil companies are lying to the community and may or may not be responsible for Johanna and others health conditions. PSE Healthy Energy’s Seth Shonkoff is outraged by Johanna’s situation, “It is unacceptable to not have to disclose what chemicals you are using across the street from somebody’s house….it hinders our ability to understand and protect the health of our communities”.
Source: Hanna Guzik, “Fracking the Poor”, In These Times, December 2014, http://inthesetimes.com/article/17355/fracking_the_poor.
Student Researcher: Megan Schweitz (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)