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Bay Area Chefs Say Fracking Damages Food Industry

Almost 100 chefs asked Gov. Jerry Brown to put a stop to the practice.

An illustration of how Hydraulic Fracturing, or Fracking, works. Photo: Patch Archive
An illustration of how Hydraulic Fracturing, or Fracking, works. Photo: Patch Archive
Chef Alice Waters was joined by dozens of other chefs and food experts Wednesday in the launch of a petition asking Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a moratorium on fracking in California.

Potential future fracking is "putting California's scarce and precious water resources and most prized farmland at serious risk," the organic food pioneer said in a letter inviting fellow chefs to sign.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the practice of directing large high-pressure streams of water, sand and chemicals at underground rock in order to fracture the rock and release oil and natural gas.

The petition contends the practice hurts farmers and agriculture by depleting water supplies, increasing water costs and polluting groundwater.

"We...are concerned about the potential impacts of fracking on our livelihoods and those who grow and produce the food we offer our customers, guests and families," the petition says.

By the end of the day Wednesday, 92 chefs, restaurant owners, winemakers and authors had signed the petition, according to Food & Water Watch spokeswoman Alice Ghosh.

Signers thus far include chef and author Joyce Goldstein of San Francisco and chefs Annie Somerville of Greens in San Francisco, Robert Klein of Oliveto in Oakland and Bruce Hill of Picco in Larkspur.

The environmental watch group is helping Waters, the founder of the Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, and Panisse executive chef Jerome Waag collect signatures and increase chefs' awareness of fracking issues.

"This is the beginning of a long-term campaign," said Ghosh, who stated the group in hopes to gain many more chef signatures in the next several months.

The petition asks Brown to declare a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until the state conducts a comprehensive study of its impacts on California water, air and soil.

The chefs' concerns center on possible fracking in the Monterey Shale Formation, a huge tract of 1,750 square miles in the Central Valley and Southern California that has been estimated to contain 15 billion barrels of shale oil.

The petition follows two recent developments on the part of the state and federal governments regarding fracking.

Last week, Brown signed a law that regulates fracking on private and public land in the state by requiring oil companies to obtain a permit from a state agency for hydraulic fracturing, notify neighbors and disclose the chemicals that will be used.

A number of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity, have criticized the state law as not being strong enough, especially after last-minute amendments were added that allegedly ease permit approval.

The Western States Petroleum Association said, however, that while the measure's requirements "went significantly farther than the petroleum industry felt was necessary," the law now gives California the opportunity "to responsibly develop the enormous potential energy resources contained in the Monterey Shale Formation."

In the federal realm, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced this summer that it will conduct a full environmental impact study of the effects of oil and gas development, including fracking, on federal land in Central California that could be leased to energy companies.

The announcement came after a federal judge in San Jose, ruling in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups, said the agency hadn't adequately studied the impact of fracking chemicals on water supplies, air and human health in initial leases of 2,700 acres of public land in Monterey and Fresno counties in 2011.

Asked to comment on the chefs' petition, Western States Petroleum Association spokesman Tupper Hull said, "Hydraulic fracturing has never contaminated groundwater in California or anywhere else.

"The technology is safe and is used to bring affordable, abundant energy to California and the United States," Hull asserted.

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