Fracking the Poor

Source: In These Times

We know who lives near wells. We don’t know how it’s harming them.

It was supposed to be a good day. It was the first day of school and Johanna Romo, 12, had just woken up. It was already hot, and if she had looked out the window, she would have seen smog hugging the valley floor, obscuring the mountains, as it has almost every day this year. But she didn’t have a chance to look out the window.

As Johanna sat up and prepared to put on her school uniform—a blue shirt and khaki pants—her body lurched backward onto the floor, violently shaking.

She would never make it to class that mid-August morning, the first day of seventh grade. A few weeks later, another seizure followed, and Johanna was hospitalized for three days while doctors ran tests and scanned her brain.

Johanna lives in Shafter, a small, heavily Latino town in California’s Kern County. Kern is one of 19 counties in the Central Valley, an arid, sunburned place between the Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges, home to farms that grow a third of the nation’s produce. It is a place haunted by extremes—extreme heat, extreme drought and, in many areas, extreme poverty. There is also, under the earth’s crust, an extreme amount of oil—the Monterey Formation, estimated to be among the most oil-rich resources in the United States.The nation’s oil companies have set up shop in this cradle of California, drilling and fracking in thousands of locations, including one about 100 yards from where Johanna attended elementary school. That’s where she first began getting headaches and nosebleeds.

Johanna’s family believes that fracking and its associated environmental pollutants are at least partially to blame for her health problems and those of others in their town, where the grape and almond farms are pocked with oil wells.

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