They were clearly planted as a buffer, if only a visual one – a stand of trees, side by side, separating a children’s playing field, a day care center and grammar school from an extensive gas and oil field. On one side of the trees there are oil pump jacks, trucks and an elaborate pipe system. On the other side there are children, ages 2 to 12.
The oil industry insists that fracking is safe (“Here’s what’s known about fracking risks,” Viewpoints, July 29). But the story of the children’s health is being foretold by the trees – they are all dead.
Pump jacks are found next to homes, nursing homes, hospitals and schools in many neighborhoods around California. If you live in Kern County, they can legally be on your fence line and there is nothing you can do about it, even if your child is asthmatic or your elderly family member struggles for breath.
With several of my nursing, medical and public health colleagues, I recently toured the gas and oil fields around Bakersfield with people from the community. I want to take Gov. Jerry Brown and Karen Smith, the new head of California’s Department of Health, on the same tour. I want them to have to breathe the air next to the unlined pits that are full of toxic liquids that go into our lungs, leach into the ground and are used to irrigate our table grapes and almonds.
My recent tour has left me with a certainty that this cannot continue. We have decided that populations who live near the oil and gas fields do not need protection. What kind of society throws their children into such harm’s way?
It is time to stop the forward motion of gas and oil and do everything we can to accelerate our drive toward job-creating renewable energy sources. It is time for a transparent plan that goes beyond “regulating” a health threat so that it is only a little less unhealthy.
Gov. Brown has an opportunity to decelerate gas and oil drilling and hasten our path toward safer energy sources – a path that will support a healthy economy, a healthy environment and healthy Californians.
Barbara Sattler, a registered nurse, is a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Nursing and Health Professionals.