A parent’s case against fracking

Oil rigs in a Kern County oil field. (Photo: Christopher Halloran)

As a father, there is nothing that I wouldn’t do to protect my children. That’s why last year, I filed a suit against the state of California and Governor Brown for discriminating against Latino youth by permitting fracking wells disproportionately close to their schools. My family knows firsthand the danger posed by these wells, which operate less than half a mile away from my daughter’s school, endangering her and her classmates’ health.

Earlier this year, a Sacramento Superior Court judge ignored the strong body of evidence that we presented him and dismissed the case with a vague opinion. This judge’s unfounded dismissal only served to emphasize that we, as a Latino family living an under-served area of Central California, are not afforded the same protections that wealthier communities receive.

While states like New York have banned fracking altogether for environmental and health concerns, my daughter and her friends are forced to learn and play within 1,500 feet away from these wells.

We expect schools to do their best to protect children in their care. I know of schools that have banned peanut butter from an entire campus to protect a single child with nut allergies. Yet, when it’s the powerful oil industry threatening their students, schools have little ability to step in and prevent the threat.

That is why we originally filed this suit—to protect the students in disadvantaged communities who do not have a voice in our state government. No child deserves to live, study, or play anywhere near a fracking operation, where oil companies pump the ground with water, sand, and hundreds of different chemicals to fracture rocks and release oil. It seems like each day brings fresh horrors and scientific research on the harm that fracking causes to people nearby. From migraines, asthma, nosebleeds, hormone disruption, and more, the body of evidence is growing that fracking is not compatible with a healthy community.

While states like New York have banned fracking altogether for environmental and health concerns, my daughter and her friends are forced to learn and play within 1,500 feet away from these wells. Many times, students at my daughter’s school, Sequoia Elementary, have been forced to spend their recess inside for weeks on end because the air quality outside was so poor.

And my youngest daughter, who used to love to run and play outside with her friends, began to suffer from unexplainable epileptic fits shortly after fracking began near her school. Despite numerous trips to doctors and specialists, we still haven’t been able to find any other explanation for her health problems, but my daughter is now afraid of going outside because of the unseen threat that could be lurking in the air.

It breaks my heart that the children at her school consider it normal to have nosebleeds regularly, due to the exposure to fracking chemicals and fumes. Even though our children are the most vulnerable to these practices because their small bodies accumulate toxic chemicals more quickly, people like the judge have decided that their health is acceptable collateral damage for the oil industry.

It is not just my daughter’s classmates who are forced to bear the brunt of the effects of fracking, it is most of the Latino population of our state. Over 60% of the 61,612 California children who go to school near a fracked well are Latino. And across the state, Latino students are 18% more likely than non-Latino students to attend a school within a mile and a half radius of a fracked well. This policy of environmental injustice and discrimination must end.

This lawsuit isn’t just for my daughters. It is for children all around the state who are forced to learn in an environment that is harmful to their health. My children deserve to be able to learn and play like other children, without having to worry about their health every time they go to school. There is no choice now but to appeal the decision. I will not stop fighting until every child can learn and play in a safe environment, free from fracking.

Ed’s Note: Rodrigo Romo is a resident of Shafter, California.

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