SACRAMENTO (CN) – California’s lax oversight of fracking disproportionately endangers Latino schoolchildren and communities in the Central Valley, a family claims in court.
California imposed stricter reporting regulations on fracking this month, but Rodrigo Romo claims Gov. Jerry Brown fast-tracked fracking at the expense of public health, “dangerously near schools and communities.” He claims his children’s health has been damaged by fracking near their schools.
The Kern County resident claims that 5.4 million Californians live within a mile of an active oil or gas well, and that a disparate amount of such schools have with large Latino enrollments. He says one of his daughters began to suffer severe asthma and epileptic attacks since fracking began 1,200 feet from her elementary school.
He sued the governor and the state’s Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources in Superior Court, in Superior Court.
Going to school near oil operations increases students’ risks of respiratory disease and psychological stress, says Madeline Stano, Romo’s attorney, with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, in Oakland.
“These children really are guinea pigs and we know from the study last week, and studies around the country, that they are being exposed to dangerous forms of air pollution,” Stano told Courthouse News.
A much-anticipated study released last week by the California Council on Science and Technology revealed mixed results about the impact of fracking on the state’s water and environment. It found the effects of chemicals used in fracking have not been studied closely enough and could be contaminating groundwater.
Stano said the study confirmed what the Romos already knew, that increasing the proximity of wells to schools increases health risks to children.
“It was a very helpful piece of data, but unfortunately it came years after our clients started being exposed,” Stano said.
Most of the state’s school districts with high oil well counts in their boundaries are in rural Kern County, including the district Romo’s children attend, in Wasco and Shafter.
At Sequoia Elementary School in Kern County, teachers often make schoolchildren skip recess for weeks at a time because of “bad smells assumed to be associated with the well stimulations” the complaint states.
According to state data, Sequoia Elementary School is the only school in the state within half a mile of three fracking wells. The school’s enrollment of 800 is 86 percent Latino, according to the complaint.
Under state law, oil companies need not give notice to students, parents or school officials that they are operating a well near a school. Nor does the state provide communities and schools the opportunity to contest or “setback” operators from drilling new wells nearby.
Of the 32 states with fracking operations, 21 have such setback laws, including the largest oil producers, Texas and North Dakota.
Unless Brown and lawmakers beef up restrictions on the oil industry, the Central Valley’s Latino communities will continue to be placed in direct harm, Stano said.
“The government hasn’t required studies specific to these children; they haven’t required a full investment of the public health risks before we experimented on [children] as a state,” Stano said.
Romo seeks declaratory judgment, asks the court to invalidate recent fracking legislation, Senate Bill 4 , an injunction, and costs of his lawsuit, which alleges discrimination-disparate impact.
It is not a class action. Romo sued on his own behalf and for his children.
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