Burning Urgency

Even in Sonoma County, we must get more involved in battling big oil

Let’s face it, climate change is here. Hurricanes and heat waves appear with frightening regularity on the news, and most analysts now acknowledge that burning carbon-based fuels is the root cause. Yet we are a bit protected here in Sonoma County. With our temperate climate and distance from the dirty work of mining, we don’t feel the same immediacy as elsewhere.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t let us off the hook. Fracking, an environmental nightmare with minimal regulation, uses deep drilling and toxic chemicals to unlock the oil and natural gas deep within the earth. Recent developments in this technology have allowed access to an estimated 15 billion barrels of shale oil under Monterey County. These huge potential profits have spurred energy companies and local governments to plan a massive expansion of its use just south of San Francisco.

Processing of the Alberta Tar Sands, oil sludge from Northern Canada which is the impetus for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, already occurs in the Bay Area at Chevron in Richmond. This plant poses significant risks to local residents, as the fire on Aug. 6, 2012, demonstrated. In addition, the explosion of an oil transport train in Quebec didn’t deter Valero from requesting to bring in 100 rail cars a day of the stuff for processing in Benicia.

Can we lower our local carbon footprint? Sonoma County boasts a rising tide of electric vehicles; the SMART rail project is making mass transit a viable option; Sonoma Clean Power opens the door to greener energy production. These advances are the result of good leadership and an informed public.

We must get more deeply involved. Most climate scientists agree that extracting and burning carbon-based fuels may help local economies, but it will send our weather patterns into further turmoil. For our long-term survival, coal, petroleum and natural gas need to stay in the ground.

Come to the rally and march to the Chevron refinery in Richmond on Aug. 3, marking the one-year anniversary of last year’s Chevron fire, which aims to mobilize for a sustainable energy future. For more info, see www.350bayarea.org.

Gary Pace is a Sebastopol-based physician.

Open Mic is a weekly op/ed feature in the Bohemian. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].

Sonoma County Library