The New New Amsterdam

by Dean Olsher

Tom Abdallah, chief engineer of the New York City subway system, in the South Ferry station. (photo: Donna Ferrato)

Tom Abdallah, chief engineer of the New York City subway system, in the South Ferry station. (photo: Donna Ferrato)

In a part of New York City called Battery Park, on the lower end of Manhattan, lies the South Ferry subway station. It’s the newest one in the city, and when Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, it was completely inundated.

Tom Abdallah is the chief environmental engineer for the New York City subway system. It’s his job to make sure that never happens again.

“Your heart sank to the middle of your stomach when we saw the devastation, and that all that hard work would go down the drain,” Abdallah says. “But we’re at it again and we’ll put it back together better than it was before.”

Abdallah walks behind a temporary wall of the new station to a feature he helped to design. It’s a mosaic map of the old city, back in the mid-1600s when it was still called New Amsterdam. The map is at the top of a stairway leading up from the subway track about 65 feet below.

The stairs in the South Ferry station during Sandy (above) and today (below)

Stairs in the South Ferry station during   Sandy (above) and today (below)
photos: Donna Ferrato (bottom), courtesy of Tom Abdallah (top)

After Sandy, the floodwaters came as high as the bottom of that very map, covering the lower tip of Manhattan. It was a spooky parallel to what was going on in real life aboveground, since water from the ocean completely covered the southernmost end of Manhattan.

After studying the map, Abdallah leads the way down to the platform to see the current state of the cleanup. They’ve made a lot of progress.

“It’s kind of eerie to be on a station platform that’s not inundated with a lot of people,” Abdallah says.

As he walks, he passes large ventilation fans that his crew installed.

He says suction caused by trains moving through tunnels naturally ventilates most of the subway, but here in the South Ferry station there was an HVAC system.

“That was completely destroyed” by Sandy, he says. “That’s why we have these fans running. We want to keep it as moisture-free as we can so that mold doesn’t develop.”

Back above the South Ferry station is Battery Park. There is no place that better tells the story of New York City’s relationship to the sea.

It was there that just over 400 years ago Henry Hudson sailed his ship, the Half Moon, into the natural harbor. That meant calm waters for shipping, and a perfect place to locate a settlement.

Battery Park lies at the southern tip of Manhattan. (photo: Donna Ferrato)

Battery Park lies at the southern tip of Manhattan. (photo: Donna Ferrato)

Now, the very factors that made this place safe are the source of the trouble New York has been experiencing as a result of Sandy.

It was in Battery Park a year ago that the floodwaters caused by Hurricane Sandy overwhelmed the entire lower tip of Manhattan.

Malcolm Bowman is an oceanographer who runs the storm surge group at SUNY Stony Brook. In Bowman’s vision of the future, New York will, in a way, be New Amsterdam once again.

In 2008, Mayor Bloomberg appointed Bowman to the New York City Panel on Climate Change. But Bowman is frustrated by New York City’s response to Sandy.

“The buzzword around town, the mantra, is ‘resilience,’” Bowman says. “And what does resilience mean? In this context it means ‘Look, it’s inevitable. It’s going to happen again, but let’s just hope that next time around we’re better prepared.’ That’s resilience.”

Bowman says that sounds like admitting defeat.

“It’s a statement that we cannot protect the city so that this never happens again,” he says.

Perhaps New York has been a little complacent because of the natural features. Lots of bedrock below all of those skyscrapers makes it well positioned to withstand rising sea levels.

“There was a feeling of invincibility, really,” Bowman says. “That although New York City is obviously a city built on the water’s edge, that we were safe, we were protected between the coastlines of Long Island and New Jersey and no hurricane could possibly hit here.”

Hurricanes are not the only threat. Other storms, just as dangerous, are now a part of life.

“The quality that made this spot so attractive to Henry Hudson—the fact that it is a protected harbor—is the same quality that leaves it so vulnerable to storms,” says Roland Lewis, the president of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.

Lewis says the same natural features that keep storms out can also keep water in.

“If you look at a map, you see the shore of New Jersey, you see Long Island, and they point toward the New York Harbor,” he says. “And when the cards line up as they did for a storm even like Sandy, that attribute of being a protected harbor, having a small opening, becomes a liability, and water is forced in.”

In the case of Sandy, that water was forced into basements and ground floors of buildings. In some parts of lower Manhattan, the floodwaters were 6 feet and higher.

Because of Sandy, New York has to once again renegotiate its lease with the sea.

The city is getting high marks around the country for its leadership on dealing with rising sea levels. In June, the Bloomberg administration responded to Sandy with a 438-page plan called “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.”

The Bloomberg Plan calls for sealing up tunnels and strategically positioning a series of levees and dikes at vulnerable points around the city. Roland Lewis describes this as “dry-proofing.”

“And then there’s wet-proofing,” Lewis says, walking through Battery Park. “The idea that you can let water in; let water out. And parks are wonderful places for that. The harm will be minimal, or expected, if there’s flooding.”

It is a sunny fall day in the park. Suddenly, Lewis finds himself standing in front of something he did not expect. A wild turkey has taken up residence in Battery Park, and park workers have adopted it.

“Zelda!” One of the workers calls out. “Zelda, come here!”

The turkey continues walking right at Lewis. She thinks he has food, maybe.

“Zelda!” yells the park worker.

The scene provokes the feeling that nature is trying to take back the city. That’s certainly how it has felt in Breezy Point in the year since Sandy.

Breezy Point is a beach community in the Rockaways. With the Manhattan skyline about 20 miles off in the distance, it looks as if it’s in another state. But in fact, the point is still within New York’s city limits.

Rebuilding in Breezy Point still had a long way to go in the fall of 2013. (photo: Dean Olsher)

Rebuilding in Breezy Point still had a long way to go in the fall of 2013.  (photo: Dean Olsher)

It was at Breezy Point that water from Sandy came into contact with electrical wires and caused a fire that burned 126 homes to the ground. A year later, all that is visible is one bare foundation after the next. The rebuilding is only beginning.

It is from Breezy Point that Malcolm Bowman’s vision for New York’s future begins, modeled after projects undertaken in Europe.

“Go to London and see the Thames River barrier,” Bowman says. “Go to the Netherlands and see the Delta project.”

The Delta project resulted from a storm surge in the North Sea in 1953, causing widespread flooding in the Netherlands, Belgium and the U.K., and leaving about 1,800 people dead. The Dutch response included building storm surge barriers—huge walls in the sea that keep out the ocean.

Malcolm Bowman envisions two similar barriers for New York City. One of them would stretch from Breezy Point about five miles across the harbor, over to Sandy Hook in New Jersey. It would do triple duty: as a bridge for cars, and also for rail tracks, and as a gate that would open and close as necessary to keep the ocean away from New York and northern New Jersey. It would cost about the same as the Bloomberg plan, which Bowman says is necessary but not sufficient.

One argument against storm surge barriers is that they may be too ambitious, and not everyone is convinced they would work. Roland Lewis says he thinks they should be tested.

Bowman, though, is disappointed that the Bloomberg plan specifically excludes them.

“That surprises me,” he says. “Because Bloomberg, his first degree is in engineering.”

For years, long before Sandy, Bowman has pushed for these barriers. As a result, he has been called a prophet: Noah, in particular.

When it comes to his idea of walling out the ocean to protect New York City from future storms, he does seem like a lone voice in the wilderness.

“Some of my colleagues say, ‘Look, Malcolm, the city is eventually doomed. Let’s start planning a retreat. Let’s start heading for the hills,’” Bowman recalls. “And I say, ‘Look, that’s never going to happen. That’s not realistic.’”

Bowman looks to the Netherlands for inspiration.

“You can’t tell the Dutch to run for the hills,” he says. “There are no hills. The whole country is flat as a pancake. And Germany and France and Belgium don’t want 20 million refugees.”

So, Bowman says, the Dutch have decided to “stand and fight.”

“They’ve decided, ‘That’s in our genes, that’s in our history,’” Bowman says. “’So we’re going to strengthen our coastal resources, we’re going to do what’s necessary, we’re going to train our engineers to be the best in the world, and if we get 150, 200 years more, then we’ve done well.’”

And New York should do the same, Bowman says. To retreat is to betray the trust of New York City’s children.


Dean Olsher is a writer, broadcaster and composer based in New York City. 

Emily Haavik edited this story for the web.

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A new way to pay the electric bill: crowdfunding

Solar workers installing panels on the Shawl Anderson Dance Center. (Photo: Andreas Karelas)

Solar workers installing panels on the Shawl Anderson Dance Center. (Photo: Andreas Karelas)

Laura Flynn for New America Media / KALW’s Crosscurrents

Click here to listen to Laura’s story

Fly low over California, and you’ll see a patchwork of black and shiny rooftops fitted with solar panels. It didn’t always look like this. Just over a decade ago, there were fewer than 500 solar rooftops in the state. By 2012, that jumped to over 160,000.

Much of that growth has happened in just the past few years. It doesn’t stop there. National industry analysts say the solar sector grew by a third in just the first quarter of 2013, with California leading the charge.

A few things are making solar more accessible, among them: cheaper panels, rebates, and new ways to for pay for them. Crowdfunding is among these new and creative ways to finance solar panels. Instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars to install solar, other people pitch in and get something in return. It’s like a Kickstarter for your electricity bill – and it’s a business model that allows people to participate directly in making solar happen.

It happened for the Shawl Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley. As piano melodies spill out the door, and dancers walk in and out, Managing Director Rebecca Johnson explains how and why her studio went solar. For one thing, she says, they were spending about $400 a month on utilities. Then they noticed their neighbors.

“All our neighbors are totally residential homes,” Johnson says. “When they got solar, we thought, ‘Wow, our roof is the same exact slope as well.’”

As they were figuring out their options and getting quotes, they got an unexpected offer. A man named Andreas Karelas offered them a lease to own system that would power 100 percent of the center’s electricity needs. They wouldn’t owe any money up-front and their monthly bill would drop.

When she saw the offer, Johnson says she thought it was to good to be true

“I don’t understand where the loophole is,” she says she rememebrs thinking.

Andreas Karelas is the founder and executive director of the non-profit RE-volv, based in San Francisco.

“Our mission is to empower people to invest collectively in renewable energy,” he says.

In other words, to “crowdfund” the dance center’s solar panels.

Crowdfunding is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a way to raise money from a lot of small donations instead of, say, one giant bank loan. The dance center is a classic example. RE-volv launched a campaign through the website Indiegogo.

In the campaign video, Karelas talks about “individuals and community centers that are generating their own power on their homes and places of work that use that energy and then share it with their neighbors.” He says it’s time to think about energy in new ways.

RE-volv raised about $25,000 through foundations and donations from 300 people around the world. That money paid for the upfront costs. Once the project was underway, the dance center started paying just under $300 a month to lease the panels. That money goes into a fund that generates interest, and helps pay for future projects. So when you donate 50 bucks to the dance center’s roof, you’re not just supporting them – you’re also helping other projects down the line.

“So our hope is that people will be eager to kind of put their money into something where it does earn a return but they’re not asking for the return back themselves,” Karelas says. “They’re asking for the return to be reinvested into more and more solar allowing it to grow exponentially.”

This is pretty different from how solar providers usually work. In a typical lease, the dance center would make payments for 10 or 20 years, then at the end of that either renew the lease or buy the system at market value. If they didn’t, or couldn’t, the company might take the panels back. With RE-volv’s model, the dance center will own its system outright after 20 years.

Dance center director Rebecca Johnson says it’s about more than the money.

“It’s not so much the finances as the decision that we made and having our community know that their dancing is now solar powered is just a powerful sense of community,” she says.

RE-volv is just one of several companies trying out models for crowdfunding solar energy. Dan Rosen is the CEO of Mosaic, an investment crowdfunding company based in Oakland. Their model also offers a return – but this one is for investors.

“Our base of investors can become advocates and some of the best advocates for clean energy,” Rosen says. “Because they’re invested in it. Because they have skin in the game.”

Mosaic provides an online platform where anyone can invest directly in a clean energy project and earn between 4 and 6 percent interest. Investments can be as little as $25.

Rosen says crowdfunding relies on fairly simple math. He says investor Warren Buffett is pouring lots of money into solar right now. Buffet has a personal fortune in the billions, but Rosen says Buffet is not as rich as millions of everyday folks who pool their money.

“Someone asked who has more money than Warren Buffett,” Rosen says. “We all do. We all have more money than Warren Buffett.”

So far, Rosen says Mosaic has financed 15 projects, raising $3 million from about 2,000 people. For example, 138 people paid to put solar panels on the roof of the Asian Resource Center or ARC, a building that houses a bunch of nonprofits and businesses in Oakland. ARC now makes monthly lease payments of about $340 to Mosaic. ARC’s payments help pay each of those investors a return.

“So Mosaic is bringing a new source of capital to the table that is people power,” Rosen says. “That is powered by individuals and small institutions. And institutions that want to invest in clean energy.”

At the Energy Institute at the Haas School of Business, the co-director of the Energy Institute, Severin Borenstein sees the logic.

“I think that has the appeal for some investors who couldn’t otherwise get into investing in solar PV very easily of being able to make small investments and still get into this market,” Borenstein says.

He says it’s a niche market.

“As far as the growth of this industry I think it’s going to be driven by the economics,” Borenstein says. “Both the true costs of installing solar relative to retail electricity prices and the tax treatment.”

But, he says, the retail cost of electricity is higher than the actual cost, which raises questions about the stability of the solar sector.

“The way it is in California people pay a higher price per kilowatt if they consume more,” Borenstein says.

That’s because most utilities roll the fixed costs of the transmission lines and managing the grid into our electricity usage. So going solar also means the utility eats that additional cost.

“Those very high prices you’re paying don’t reflect the actual cost of supplying power to you,” Borenstein says.

This makes going solar more attractive and utilities see the threat.

“The utility recognizes it’s giving incentives for people to install solar instead of buy their power from the utility, and as a result they are trying to change those tariffs,” Borenstein says.

For example, everyone could be charged a fixed monthly fee for simply being connected to the grid. If that happens, Borenstein says, the whole solar sector could slow. But for now, it’s still growing.

“Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding is a way that we can democratize energy,” says Rosen from Mosaic. He sees crowdfunding as a way to change the whole energy industry. He anticipates major growth in solar rooftops, enough to disrupt the way utilities currently work. Where people with their own energy sources – like solar panels – distribute the excess to their neighbors.

Rosen imagines that “every home could essentially be a power plant.”

“Because it really is inevitable,” he says. “It’s cheaper to put solar on your home than not. It will happen. It’s economics.”

Solar still makes up less than 1 percent of the country’s total electricity production today. Rooftop solar makes up even less of that. Crowdfunding projects have a long road ahead, but Rosen and other supporters are hoping it’s a sunny one.

This story was produced as part of a 2013 NAM Fellowship on Energy and the Environment for Northern California Ethnic Media (a collaboration with SoundVision Productions’ Burn: An Energy Journal) with the support by S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and PG&E.

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California experiments with fracking regulation

Leslie Layton for New America Media / ChicoSol


The Sierra Club’s Dave Garcia is part of a campaign against hydraulic fracturing in Northern California. (Karen Laslo/ChicoSol)

CHICO, Calif. — On a summer morning, Dave Garcia, the political chair of the Sierra Club’s Northern California Yahi chapter, occasionally interrupted a tour of gas wells in the Sutter Buttes to point out wildlife: a scampering cottontail rabbit, a vigilant red-tailed hawk, and whizzing western kingbirds.

Garcia had brought a pair of journalists here to witness fracking in the Northern Sacramento Valley, something that most Northern Californians probably have no idea is underway in this area. The well sites appear almost deserted—there are no gas flares, no trucks moving huge tanks of water, no towering pump jacks. In fact, people are rarely seen at these electronically monitored stations. 

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”— a procedure used to capture hard-to-reach pools of oil and gas — has fueled a debate nationwide. Some studies show that fracking has links to water and air pollution, increased seismic activity, and water shortages.

In California, most of the debate has focused on development of the Monterey Shale in the southern San Joaquin Valley. There, oil companies want to exploit the nation’s largest shale-oil reserve. They’ve already begun, using fracking, horizontal drilling and a technique called “acidizing.” Much less attention has been focused on the natural gas reserves in rural Northern California, where fracking has occurred in Sutter, Glenn and Colusa counties.

According to an industry website, of the dozens of Sutter County gas wells, 15 were fracked a couple of years ago by Venoco, a Denver-based oil and gas company. These are small-scale fracking operations, comparatively speaking, but the Sierra Club’s Garcia is nonetheless concerned about possible contamination of the Tuscan Aquifer that slopes from the Sierras to the west side of the Buttes.

Efforts to regulate the drilling technique in California have also ramped up.

Earlier this fall, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 4, which regulates fracking in the state for the first time. Brown supports increased fracking in the state.

SB 4 directs the state Dept. of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to establish regulations for fracking and another oil extraction method called acidizing, where acids are injected into a well to unlock oil deposits. Oil and gas companies will be required to obtain a permit, disclose chemical additives, and notify neighbors of plans to frack. The law also requires an independent scientific study.

Senator Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, an SB 4 sponsor, said the law establishes some of the nation’s most stringent regulations for fracking and acidizing. But some environmentalists have criticized it for not going far enough. A number of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and California League of Conservation Voters, have either didn’t back or withdrew support for the bill. 

Anti-fracking activists across the state continue to press for a moratorium on fracking. In Butte County, a group belonging to the Chico Citizen Action Network is pressing for a local ordinance to halt fracking.

As California is on the brink of a great experiment in fracking regulation, state residents are grappling with a key question—whether fracking can be successfully regulated and safely conducted. Throughout the state, key interest groups — from anti-fracking activists and environmentalists to pro-business and oil industry representatives — are lining up to wage a battle over community support for fracking.

Fracking in rural Northern California

In the Northern Sacramento Valley, gas-well fracking has been underway, quietly and without oversight, for years, underscoring the freedom the industry has had to operate at will. California was late in regulating fracking.  On her website, Sen. Pavley points out that 14 other oil-producing states already regulate the practice.

In the fracking world, the word itself can mean different things.

Fracking involves drilling thousands of feet into the earth, then blasting a mixture of sand, water, and chemicals into an encased well at high pressure to fracture rock, allowing the oil and gas in it to escape. It requires large volumes of water—a single operation might need 5 million gallons if the well is drilled horizontally.

By drilling horizontally, a well can be extended for thousands of feet. In several of these huge projects, chemicals have leaked or gas has seeped into aquifers in incidents that were linked to faulty well construction.

In California, “acid fracking,” or well acidizing, may yield better results than horizontal drilling, according to news reports. These “acid jobs” involve injecting huge volumes of highly corrosive hydrofluoric acid and other acids into a well to dissolve the rock.

In the Northern Sacramento Valley, fracking means fracturing rock in vertical or slanted gas wells, said Chico State geology professor Todd Greene. Fracking here “is not anywhere close to the type of fracking you see in Pennsylvania, Wyoming and New York,” he said.

Horizontal drilling has been used to exploit the Marcellus Shale and other large deposits in other parts of California.

Greene, who previously worked for the oil industry, notes that this part of the valley sits on sandstone—not shale rock. This area has gas, but little to no oil. Horizontal drilling that makes large-scale projects feasible isn’t usually effective in sandstone formations, Greene said.

But fracking in the North Valley raises similar concerns about possible leakage of toxic chemicals that are used in the process. More importantly, the lack of information about the extent of fracking in this region and elsewhere in the state point to inadequate state monitoring of a widespread practice.

Greene said, for example, that it would be useful to know what’s being done with the contaminated wastewater that flows back up a well after injection. On well pads in the Sutter Buttes, green drums hold up to 3,500 gallons.

Many of the wells are accessible from Pass Road, which winds along the base of what is known as the world’s smallest mountain range. The gas wells are behind gates that bear no-trespassing and danger signs. If you approach the wells, you might catch the wafting smell of gas or chemicals, or hear a humming or pumping sound. Homes on domestic wells are occasionally sprinkled around the bluffs.

Despite the widespread drilling – sometimes close to homes — it’s not easy to get basic questions answered, such as the direction of the drilling or where the wastewater goes. State regulators balked at the word “interview,” and an oil conglomerate provided what amounted to a “we don’t talk to the media” statement. 

A trail of fracked wells

DOGGR regulates California well-drilling, but hasn’t yet begun requiring an additional permit for fracking. DOGGR’s administration has been widely criticized in the past for failing to even monitor fracking. Officials declined to be interviewed for this story.

With little information provided by the state regulatory agency, the public has had to turn to other, incomplete sources of information on fracking operations in the state. 

In response to critics, DOGGR began compiling records on well-fracking last year, said Kyle Ferrar, state coordinator for the nonprofit FracTracker Alliance.

FracTracker has identified 237 fracked wells that haven’t been reported to DOGGR. One of those missing from the DOGGR database is a Sutter Buttes well.

Sometime after Venoco fracked wells in the Sutter Buttes in 2011, it sold its Northern California holdings. DOGGR’s website indicates the wells are now under management of Vintage Production California, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum.

Occidental Petroleum’s External Relations Manager Amy Fonzo responded via an email, saying that due to “competitive and proprietary reasons,” Vintage doesn’t discuss its operations. 

Property owners who lease land don’t always fare well with the oil companies, either. 

A Glenn County landowner contacted the Butte Environmental Council (BEC), an environmental advocacy organization, earlier this year after an exchange with a company that drills for gas on her property. She was hesitant to renew a lease that required signing over mineral rights because she had grown increasingly worried about the safety of fracking. 

The company told her it wasn’t fracking, but if she didn’t renew the contract, it could access gas on her land from a neighboring parcel, according to BEC. 

Garcia first learned about horizontal fracking from the HBO film Gasland, which documented cases of groundwater contamination in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Wyoming. He then turned for information on this area to the website FracFocus, where oil and gas companies have been asked to report fracking.

FracFocus provides a rough and incomplete sketch of fracking in the state. Perhaps most alarming to many community activists is the fact that drilling companies don’t provide complete listings of the chemical concoctions they’re using, noting in some cases that an additive is a “trade secret.”

“Oil companies are way ahead of us in terms of what’s going on,” Garcia said. “They’re marching right along in their shroud of secrecy.”

Despite concerns about fracking’s risks to health and the environment, some community members welcome a fracking boom in the hopes that it will bring jobs. 

Where are the jobs?

On a July evening in a Marysville meeting hall, Bishop Ron Allen stood at the podium, discussing in his booming preacher’s voice unemployment, oil and untapped riches.

Allen, the founder of Sacramento’s International Faith Based Coalition, lent his oratory skill to promote a fracking boom at an “educational summit.” Allen told an audience that included Tea Party supporters and landowners that expanded oil and gas production would provide jobs and generate income in the “underserved community.”

“California has been standing on the sidelines despite having 60 percent of America’s shale [oil] reserves right beneath our feet,” Allen said. Then he added: “Somebody help us, please.”

The summit was sponsored by Roseville’s nonprofit Coalition of Energy Users, whose key leadership has ties to conservative organizations. It was one of several events this past summer, held by various groups, in which fracking was presented as a path out of poverty and economic stagnation. 

Outside the summit meeting, anti-fracking protesters held signs denouncing “Big Oil” and passed out flyers. Some of the protesters had requested seats at the summit weeks in advance, but said that when they arrived, they found their names on a “Do not admit” list and were greeted by members of the Sons of Liberty motorcycle club, who served as bouncers at the event.

Job creation is often trumpeted as a benefit of expanded production, but it’s hard to know whether fracking creates work on the valley’s northern gas fields.

Sutter County is a top producer of dry gas — the gas that comes from fields without any oil in the mix. The county has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state at 13.6 percent in July, compared to the statewide average at 8.7 percent.

But some environmentalists argue that the hidden costs of fracking aren’t being considered.

“We’re going after the dirtiest fossil fuels that are left,” said Kassie Siegel, the director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are going to have higher and higher health and environmental costs. People will get sick and the climate crisis will get worse.”

Regulating fracking

Activists have been fighting for a moratorium that would stall fracking pending the outcome of scientific study. 

The oil industry fought off several bills that would have imposed a statewide moratorium on fracking in the 2013 legislative session. It also opposed Pavley’s compromise SB 4.

On its website, the Western States Petroleum Association, an industry lobbying group, says a law based on SB 4 should at least end talk of fracking moratoriums.

“There is no longer a place in California for the emotion-fueled demands for a moratorium of hydraulic fracturing,” wrote Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the WSPA. 

Environmental organizations say they’re worried that DOGGR will rubber-stamp permit applications instead of requiring environmental review. They’re worried that the bill prevents imposition of a statewide moratorium at some future point, though Pavley has disputed this.

Organizations that support a ban or moratorium warn against reliance on regulation. They often note industry exemptions from the nation’s Safe Drinking Water Act through what’s popularly known as the “Halliburton Loophole.”

Eight California communities have passed resolutions to ban fracking, including Berkeley, Culver City and Marin County, according to Food and Water Watch.

A few days after passage of Pavley’s bill, several anti-fracking activists set up a table at the Saturday Chico farmers’ market, collecting signatures on a ban petition. Activist Willow Dejesus said she’s worried about fracking’s impact on water supplies and aquifer contamination.

“Water doesn’t get any closer to the heart of our livelihood,” said Dejesus. “I don’t think regulation is an answer. There’s tons of regulations in place, but there’s always exemptions, always people who don’t follow regulations, always accidents.”

Though FracFocus doesn’t show fracked wells in Butte County, Garcia says he’s identified 10 active gas wells in the county. Once natural-gas prices start climbing back up, the wells could be subject to fracking, he said.

“These companies are going to be going to the old gas wells they have in Butte County and reworking them,” Garcia said. “That’s why it’s critical to get a moratorium.”

California’s fracking story has really just begun.

This story was produced as part of a 2013 NAM Fellowship on Energy and the Environment for Northern California Ethnic Media (a collaboration with SoundVision Productions’ Burn: An Energy Journal) with the support by S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and PG&E.

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