Fracking: A Report from a so-called “public hearing”

Tuesday, January 7, 2014 – A so-called “public hearing”

Although I like to regard myself as one who stays abreast of important issues immediately affecting California’s ecology, I had only the vaguest notion that the current governor, who was derided by the Republican party three decades ago with the moniker “Governor Moonbeam,” has become a kind of corporate version of Hal in “Henry IV, Part 1.” Prince Brown may well have hung around with Gary Snyder when he was young, but he is showing that he no longer needs the companionship of an environmentally-minded Falstaff. Instead, he would rather demonstrate that he is as pragmatic as any well-paid CEO in oil industry.

The travesty that contemporary political interaction has become was well on display at the so-called “public hearing” at the CSULB campus on Monday afternoon. Despite being held at the southernmost edge of Los Angeles, in as remote and inaccessible a public venue as possible, over a hundred people showed up to speak in defiance of this scheduling obstruction. But distance from the epicenter of the Los Angeles County’s power center was the least part of the problem. The far more serious hindrance to social accountability was a complete absence of elected officials at the “hearing” to “hear” what the public had to say. A court reporter transcribed the comments and a video camera was set up in the back of the Beach Auditorium to record the presentations by speakers. No one, however, from the government who has a direct hand in the drafting of this legislation was actually present in the room to absorb directly the quiet passion in the protestors’ voices. In terms of public input, the statements will be neutralized in flat pixels on a computer screen. If they are glanced at all by the people who are supposed to be “listening” to the public hearing, it will no doubt be in the manner of what young people call “snacking” as they “surf” the web.

One speaker described the situation as “Orwellian,” in that the people who showed up to protest the imposition of fracking on California were speaking in a black box to themselves. None of us who spoke yesterday had any reassurances that in fact our comments would be read at the same measured pace at which they were spoken. If even one person in a position of authority from Department of Conservation (originally typed as “conversation” – an ironic typo!) had shown up and had to sit on the stage and listen and take notes, then at least we who spoke up against fracking could feel that the state of California was willing to subject itself to the charade of pretending to listen politely to our points about the scarcity of water in California and the potential for seismic destabilization, and then ignoring us. We weren’t even given the dignity of a charade. It was a thoroughly depressing event, and I left with the same sense of futility as after massive, global demonstrations failed to stop the Bush-Cheney-Blair invasion of Iraq. Fracking is passed off as safe, but a devastating environmental impact is most certainly in the offing.

As I type today’s blog entry, I feel a kind of PRE-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It must be horrific to live in a society in which car bombs are constantly going off. Fracking seems to me to be a kind of remote-controlled car bomb. When the technology fails — and this is an ineluctable self-implosion — the consequences will not stop at the precise interstices of the collapse. As with the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the explosion will permeate an entire region. Unfortunately, the people who profit the most from practices such as fracking will suffer the least ramifications. What a shame that one of the suggestions yesterday will never be made a law: everyone who benefits the most from fracking should be forced to live, day after day, in a home that is within 150 yards of a fracking site; then we would see how long it takes for a “not-in-my-backyard” movement to gain some respect. I would propose a series of rippling concentric neighborhoods, with the Board of Directors and CEOs living closest and those lowest-paid and doing the most dangerous work being allowed a buffer zone.