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Going to Extremes in the Golden State

California, here it comes—a surge of extreme energy methods like fracking that potentially threaten the Golden State's water, air and health. And those on the frontlines of that energy rush are troubled.

  • Walt Desatoff looks out the window of his bedroom at the oil field across the street from his home in Shafter, California. A few years ago the field was filled with roses. Now Desatoff sees multiple oil pumpjacks and a giant flare.

    Walt Desatoff looks out the window of his bedroom at the oil field across the street from his home in Shafter, California. A few years ago the field was filled with roses. Now Desatoff sees multiple oil pumpjacks and a giant flare. He's had to cancel graduation parties and Easter Eggs hunts at his home because of the noise and air pollution caused by the extremely close industrialization. "It's changed everything around here," says Desatoff. "I spend so much of my time dealing with this now."

    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
  • Walt Desatoff drives past an oil rig near his home in Shafter, CA. Desatoff has seen several of the rigs sprout up near his home in the past few years.

    Walt Desatoff drives past an oil rig near his home in Shafter, CA. Desatoff has seen several of the rigs sprout up near his home in the past few years.

    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
  • Walt Desatoff stands in front of a flare in an oil field next to his home.

    Walt Desatoff stands in front of a flare in an oil field next to his home. The flare is so close to Desatoff's property that before the wall was put up around the flare, his house would light up at night from the light and the windows would rattle from the flare's vibrations.

    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
  • A sign in an agricultural field in Shafter indicates the growing tension between agricultural and oil industries in California's Central Valley, America's most productive cropland.

    A sign in an agricultural field in Shafter indicates the growing tension between agricultural and oil industries in California's Central Valley, America's most productive cropland. Residents like Desatoff are worried about the air pollution coming off those flared wells, and wonder whether the chemicals in the giant fracking wastewater pits will seep into drinking water wells.

    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
  • Map of Monterey Shale.

    Industry observers are bracing for a large-scale energy surge driven by rising oil prices, the discovery of vast oil shale deposits and an upsurge in extreme extraction methods like horizontal drilling, fracking and a process known as steam extraction.

    Shale Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
  • An almond farmer watches oil wells that have sprouted near almond orchards in Shafter.

    An almond farmer watches oil wells that have sprouted near almond orchards in Shafter. Many worry that the new techniques being used to go after the oil, such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, could potentially damage groundwater in agricultural areas.

    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
  • These almonds were grown mere feet from an oil field.

    These almonds were grown mere feet from an oil field. Some farmers in California's Central Valley are also concerned that drilling could put a strain on the state's already over-extended water supply and add to its existing air pollution problem. During fracking, hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons of water are mixed with toxic chemicals and injected down wells at high pressure, fracturing the underground rock formation to force oil and gas to the surface.

    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
  • Gary Gless, president of the non-profit, grassroots group Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community, stands on a hill in his neighborhood overlooking the Inglewood Oil Field.

    Gary Gless, president of the non-profit, grassroots group Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community, stands on a hill in his neighborhood overlooking the Inglewood Oil Field. The Inglewood Oil Field is the world's largest urban oil field, squeezed onto the edges of the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Baldwin Hills, Culver City and Windsor Hills.

    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
  • Gless points to a new crack in the wall of his Windsor Hills home, which are appearing nearly daily due to the increase in activity at the Inglewood Oil Field near his Los Angeles area home.

    Gless points to a new crack in the wall of his Windsor Hills home, which are appearing nearly daily due to the increase in activity at the Inglewood Oil Field near his Los Angeles area home. Before the increase in drilling, Gless experienced none of this. "It used to be quiet here," Gless says. "Now I lie awake in bed at night and hear the walls of my house cracking."

    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
  • Gless points to a new crack in the wall of his Windsor Hills home, which are appearing nearly daily due to the increase in activity at the Inglewood Oil Field near his Los Angeles area home.

    Gless points to a new crack in the wall of his Windsor Hills home, which are appearing nearly daily due to the increase in activity at the Inglewood Oil Field near his Los Angeles area home. Before the increase in drilling, Gless experienced none of this. "It used to be quiet here," Gless says. "Now I lie awake in bed at night and hear the walls of my house cracking."

    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
  • Gless and Ferrazzi at a park near Gless's home.

    Gless and Ferrazzi at a park near Gless's home. The Inglewood Oil Field looms in the background. Gless, Ferrazzi and other residents are trying to stop fracking and new drilling techniques in the Inglewood Oil Field that are leading to increased seismic activity in their communities. Not long ago, everyone, even the oil companies, thought the field had been pumped nearly dry. But then oil and gas companies across America began touting big profits from new and more risky, destructive techniques to extract fossil fuels.

    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
  • A sign hangs by the Inglewood Oil Field in Los Angeles, warning of hazardous fumes.

    A sign hangs by the Inglewood Oil Field in Los Angeles, warning of hazardous fumes. About 300,000 residents live within a three-mile radius of the oil field. In spite of the risks to nearby residents, Houston-based Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP) has taken a renewed interest in the oil field, readying plans to drill hundreds of new wells.

    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
  • Citizens, lobbyists, business people and politicians cram into a meeting room at the state capitol in Sacramento for a hearing about upcoming regulations for hydraulic fracturing in California.

    Citizens, lobbyists, business people and politicians cram into a meeting room at the state capitol in Sacramento for a hearing about upcoming regulations for hydraulic fracturing in California.

    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
  • As the sun sets on another California day, a flare burns in an oil field in Shafter, CA.

    As the sun sets on another California day, a flare burns in an oil field in Shafter, CA. As the oil industry ramps up production in the state through new techniques, many residents are concerned about the health of the people and the nature—and future—of the Golden State.

    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

The era of "extreme energy" is marked by industry attempts to drill in harsh Arctic Ocean waters for oil, blast off mountaintops for coal in Appalachia, and shoot hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemically treated water into the earth to extract oil and gas.

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, has been largely deregulated, with exemptions from key portions of federal laws, including: The Safe Drinking Water Act, The Clean Air Act, and The Clean Water Act.

Related Feature Story

Extreme Energy: Out of Control Out West – In the farming community of Shafter, two hours north of los Angeles, there once was a rose field that Walt Desatoff could see from his house across the street. Today, Desatoff sees oil rigs. They are ugly to look at, noxious to smell and at times loud enough to rattle his windows.

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