California Tribes Front and Center at Sacramento Anti-Fracking Rally
Parched by drought that is causing water shortages and threatening crops and fisheries, California and the tribes residing there are embattled over fracking, which uses millions of gallons of water per shale well.
California has more tribes than any other state, and scores of them were out in force on March 15 at a “Don’t Frack California” rally at the State Capitol in Sacramento. More than 4,000 people gathered to demand that Governor Jerry Brown pass a moratorium on hydraulic fracking for oil.
Carrying signs ranging from the simple “Honor Tribal Water Rights” to the more provocative “Gov. Brown Is a Fracking Mother Earth Molestor,” hundreds of California Indians representing the Winnemem Wintu, Miwok, Chumash, Hoopa Valley, Karuk, Yurok, Lakota, Ohlone, Pomo and many other tribes voiced a unified position against the practice.
In September, Brown signed into law the first regulations on hydraulic fracturing, which environmentalists and tribal officials say would allow for the practice to be widespread. Fracking uses water, sand and chemicals to crack rock formations underground in order to reach oil and gas. The technology makes it possible for oil companies to unlock California’s vast Monterey Shale deposit, estimated to hold 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil.
Tribal representatives and activists at the rally unanimously opposed the authorization of any fracking, which is known to use vast quantities of water, because it threatens the health of their rivers and important fisheries at a time when water shortages are already affecting ecosystems and ancestral lands.
There are also concerns that fracking can cause earthquakes. "Shaky Ground," a new report from Clean Water Action, Earthworks and the Center for Biological Diversity, states that more than half of the state's permitted oil wastewater injection wells are located less than 10 miles from an active fault and that 87 of them, or six percent, are located within a mile of an active fault.
Politicians, too, are seeking at the very least further study. State Senators Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced legislation in February calling for a moratorium on fracking until a comprehensive independent review of the environmental and public health impacts can be completed.
“There are a million Angelenos that live within a five-mile radius of the largest urban oil field in the country,” said Mitchell, whose predominantly minority district includes the Inglewood Oil Field, in a statement. “Complaints that residents are exposed to hazardous chemicals and toxic pollutants and which cause all kinds of health symptoms have been ignored. When industrial operations like fracking and acidization disproportionately impact minority communities, environmental justice has been breached and needs to be restored.”
Winnemem Wintu Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk, who gave the keynote speech at the rally, said the governor’s fracking bill was connected to Brown’s $25 billion proposal to build twin tunnels to pump water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Southern California municipalities and industrial agriculture. Many Winnemem Wintu sacred sites could be inundated if Congress authorizes the federal government’s proposal to raise Shasta Dam by 18 feet, a plan Sisk said is part of the effort to find more water for fracking.
“Here at the Capitol is where the big minds and big thinkers are supposed to be taking care of us, but there are a lot of ‘Brown water’ plans going on here,” she said. “We pray to the Creator that you will have strength in your work to fight this so the ones that come after us will have clean water when they get here.”
Pennie Opal Plant of Gathering Tribes spoke to the crowd about the connections between the fight against fracking and efforts to stop oil extraction in the Alberta oil sands of Canada, as well as the shipment of explosive crude oil by train in the Midwest.
“It’s time to transition,” Plant said. “[Mother Earth] is expecting us to be strong. We are not her failed experiment. We are her immune system. We are her cells activating on behalf of her fish, our two-legged relatives, those who fly and all of her life.”
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