Anti-fracking group stops in Merced, holds class

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comMarch 18, 2014 

— A activist group held what amounted to a training session in Merced on Tuesday for those trying to find ways to keep a controversial drilling method out of the region.

The Stop the Frack Attack tour included experts from across the country that teach residents how they can keep hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, out of their cities by using changes in zoning laws. Fracking is a way to extract oil from shale formations under the ground.

About two dozen people attended one of those trainings Tuesday at the Merced Civic Center. Deborah Cipolla-Dennis, a resident of Dryden, N.Y., shared her story. “We’ve sort of given up on the state,” she said. “We’re going town to town and banning it.”

Cipolla-Dennis, a program manager at Cornell University, was part of an effort that banned fracking in her town of about 14,000.

Norse Energy Corp. USA, an oil exploration and production company, sued the town. The ban has been upheld by two state courts and heads to New York’s highest court this spring.

The group says fracking pollutes drinking water.

Extracting fuel from shale formations requires pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break apart rock and free the gas. Some of that water, along with large quantities of existing underground water, returns to the surface, and it can contain high levels of salt, drilling chemicals, heavy metals and naturally occurring low-level radiation.

A report from an investor group called Ceres found that between January 2011 and May 2013, about 97 billion gallons of water was used for fracking nationwide.

Supporters say fracking is safe and will create tens of thousands of jobs, an especially tempting benefit for struggling states. Supporters also say an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil could be produced through exploration of the Monterey Shale Formation, a 1,750-square-mile area of underground rock running through the center of California.

Two Colorado men at Tuesday’s meeting shared their stories of living within 1,000 feet of a fracking drill site. Rod Brueske of Longmont, Colo., moved his family from their home after his children began suffering health problems he believes were connected to the fracking operations.

Shane Davis of Fort Collins, Colo., an activist and research biologist, said he too experienced some of those effects in an area close to 75 drill sites. He talked to those in the room about ways to access public information related to drill sites and oil spills.

The two dozen people at the meeting also received training on how to put pressure on local authorities to pass zoning restrictions that would not allow fracking in the area.

Rod Webster, a member of Mercedians Against Fracking, said his 4-month-old group has about 40 people on its mailing list. He said he is not aware of much fracking happening in Merced County and his group wants to keep it that way.

“Once they’re in, it’s very hard legally to get them out,” Webster said.

The Stop the Frack Attack tour is expected to visit Kern and Los Angeles counties before heading to the East Coast.

For more on the tour, go to www.stopthefrackattack.org.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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