Saturday, October 5, 2013

Fracking on our agriculture

One concern about fracking that did not get much attention is its effects on agriculture.  A reduction of agricultural output is attributable directly to loss of land and an indirectly to the effect of truck traffic emissions.  It may seem insignificant by comparison to water contamination and earthquakes.  However, much of the Fracking in California occurs in and around the Central Valley, one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the US.  A diminished crop output from California will surely be felt across the country.
A case study to what is about to happen in California is the situation in Pennsylvania, where fracking for natural gas has spanned across the countryside.  Fracking sites dot the rural farming landscape bringing hundreds of truck trips onto small country roads.  Each fracking site must have an access road for the heavy equipment and so a spider web of new roadways spreads across the region.  Farmers who lease their land to fracking may not realize all that comes along with the activity.  Even when fracking doesn’t cause spills or earthquakes and doesn’t contaminate groundwater, even when everything goes according to plan, fracking takes over farm land and brings with it heavy truck traffic.  Both of which diminish the agricultural output of the state.

Since the year 2000, over 7000 gas wells were fracked in Pennsylvania.  This fracking activity mostly happens in rural agricultural areas where the loss of land and increased emissions reduce the agricultural productivity of the area.  The maps show that fracking activity mostly occurs on land that is 15-50% cultivated.  While each individual fracking site may seem small, access roads and pipelines add to the loss of acreage.  The cumulative land-grab is significant when added to leaks and water contamination that also degrade productive agriculture land.  Yet another significant effect is truck emissions that reduce crop output.  In the past few years, many reports identified the direct negative health effects on farmers and their animals.  However, the indirect effects of the truck pollution were not closely looked at, in connection with fracking activity.  As hundreds of trucks travel to these fracking sites, the air quality diminishes, people’s health declines and agriculture output decreases.
The effects of traffic emissions on agriculture are significant and well documented.  A study in 1999 found that a mere 10% emissions reduction from truck traffic is estimated to increase agricultural output in the US by $70 million (1990-dollar values).  The same study estimated the economic losses from all traffic related pollution in California to be approaching $2 billion (1990-dollar values).  Diesel vehicles and equipment account for over two thirds of the particulate matter polluting our air.  California took a lead role in pollution reduction and experienced health and economic benefits.  Fracking activity would set us back and decrease our agricultural production output.
High concentration of pollutants inhibits plant growth and therefore reduces plant productivity.  Ozone and particulates enter the leaves and hamper the photosynthesis process.  This reduced plant growth and productivity, which translates into losses in agriculture.  California made strides to curb car and truck emissions in efforts to reduce their negative health effects such as asthma.  These steps helped increase agricultural productivity; fracking will reverse that progress.
The deleterious effects of traffic emissions have been recorded many times over.  The California Air Resource Board (ARB) has conducted numerous studies that show the correlation between gasoline and diesel exhaust and asthma in the Central Valley.  These studies show that high levels of particulate matter are the result of smoking cars and diesel engines.  Other studies show that diesel trucks contribute to the high levels of VOC’s in the central valley.  Fracking would elevate both VOC’s and particulate matter concentrations in the region.  It would increase particulate matter from its associative truck traffic and VOC’s from methane emissions, leaks and evaporation ponds.  What is in-store for California can be observed by fracking activity in Pennsylvania.  California however, may have more to lose.
Here is an industry determined to get every last drop of oil and gas out of the ground if they can make ‘a buck’ selling the stuff.  They coerce and manipulate farmers to get the rights to frac for oil in California, while our state’s agriculture declines, our health deteriorates and our air and water are in jeopardy.  If ever there was a case of profits over people, this clearly is one.  Particularly considering, that this crude is of such poor quality it is headed for export, profiting only the oil industry.  The disingenuous choice, our state’s government makes by allowing dirty oil extraction rather than increasing sustainable energy production is troubling, especially, when our states agriculture is on the line.  Choosing oil over veggies is not a sustainable choice.  Fracking activity contradicts climate change mitigation regulations established by AB32.  Fracking is particularly harmful in California, the food basket of the country.  We cannot afford this risky endeavor that only benefits the oil industry at our collective expense.
Cahill Thomas A. Steven S. Cliff, Michael Jimenez-Cruz and Kevin D. Perry, DELTA Group, University of California, Davis and Dept. of Meteorology University of Utah; Continuous Analysis of Fresno Aerosols by Size, Time and Elemental Concentrations, March – December 2001,
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Lurmann, Fred, Siana Alcorn, Manidipa Ghosh and Sonoma Technology Inc. Petaluma, CA Tasks 6.1 and 6.2: Phase Distributions and Secondary Formation During Winter in the San Joaquin Valley; Presented to: CRPAQS Data and Workshop, Sacramento CA, March 9-10 2004
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Roberts, David; 10 reasons why fracking for dirty oil in California is a stupid idea Grist Magazine, 18 Mar 2013
Royte, Elizabeth, Fracking Our Food Supply; Are dying cattle the canaries in the coal mine? Farmers and ranchers are sounding alarms about the risks to human health of hydraulic fracturing.  November 28, 2012 This article appeared in the December 17, 2012 edition of The Nation.
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Maps Sources
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, PA DEP Oil & Gas Reporting Website - Statewide Data Downloads By Reporting Period 9/24/2013
Permits and Drilled Wells (a.k.a. Spuds):
PAMAP Program Land Cover for Pennsylvania, 2005 The Pennsylvania State University Publication Date:200708
PASDA Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access
Stratification of Pennsylvania 2002 United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural
Publication Date:  2002