Oped by Mayor Heidi Harmon of San Luis Obispo
Published in The New Times
The oil and gas industry fear the continued drop in the prices of their products worsened by the pandemic. They want to ensure our dependency on fossil fuels by taking advantage of this life-threatening virus. While Gov. Gavin Newsom is heroically combating COVID-19, the federal government has been rolling back environmental protections and lifting restrictions to allow for more drilling. They are gambling with our lives, for their profits.
In California, 24 permits for new fracking wells in Kern County were approved on April 3, 2020. Our Department of Conservation may approve 282 more fracking permits any day.
More than 22,300 Californians are confirmed infected with COVID-19, and 687 have tragically died. Yet, more than 12,000 Californians die annually from oil and gas production and burning. Any form of fossil fuel drilling makes air pollution worse. Air particulates cause cancer, asthma, and put immune systems at risk, but we can’t see them. We can’t see COVID-19, either.
Toxic air pollution from oil and gas drilling makes COVID-19 even deadlier. The authors of an April 5 Harvard study found that the slightest increase in air pollution would cause an “increase in the COVID-19 death toll and hospitalizations, further burdening our health care system”—and putting people who live next to oil and gas wells at higher risk.
Now more than ever, we need to protect the health and safety of all Californians. We shouldn’t needlessly be putting more people at risk.
Local elected officials are the first line of defense to fight fracking. I’m proud to serve on the steering committee of Elected Officials to Protect California. More than 300 of us have already signed a letter asking the governor to take action banning fracking. I believe Gov. Newsom does want to protect the health and well-being of all Californians. I understand that he’s focused on combating COVID-19. He may only be tangentially aware that new fracking permits are being issued. We are in an emergency, and COVID-19 is his priority.
But climate change is an emergency, too. The World Health Organization has stated that if temperatures continue to rise, there will be an increase in pandemics like COVID-19. They are a national security threat.
We need to let the governor know the serious threat that fracking represents, as it adds to temperatures rising and the possibility of more pandemics.
Together we are stronger. Unite your voice with ours. Please contact Gov. Newsom’s office and be heard.
Together we can convince him not to issue any new permits. But it’s time the state put our lives first, not the interests of the oil and gas industry.
We need to ban all fracking now.