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Fracking is spreading. What happened to renewable energy?

June 30, 2013

Recently, FarmsReach has been covering the issue of fracking and how it may impact farming.  We’ve also created a Fracking section within our Water & Irrigation Toolkit.

The main reason: Because the Monterey Shale in California is on the hot list for oil companies right now, and it sits right below some of the world’s prime farmland in the Central Valley and Southern part of California.

fracking and farmingOur team had actually done a lot more research behind the scenes to make the case against fracking for our member farmers, but several of our advisors and partner organizations suggested we tread more lightly on this issue when speaking to farms, or we could “alienate ourselves” or “come up against a ball of hurt”.  Whoah.  I (naively) thought it was a no-brainer that farmers and ranchers would be up in arms against anything that could displace literally millions of their water for a single drilling site, and could potentially pollute their groundwater and soil for their crops, livestock and themselves.

I understand now that there are many reasons why a farmer or rancher would actually LIKE fracking to come to their region. You can read a bit about why in our FarmsReach blog from a panel on food, farming and fracking.  Personally, I think a lot of it is because the agriculture industry has many systemic economic issues, so a farm getting compensated a large sum for “simply” selling their mineral rights may rightfully seem like a wonderful offer slash savior.

Nonetheless, last night I watched Gasland, the award-winning and Oscar-nominated documentary about natural gas fracking across the US.  I also read a NY Times article clarifying some alleged (but imho insignificant) exaggerations in the film.

All this makes me want to step back and try to remember all my chit-chat conversations with friends who work in/around renewable energy.  Fracking wouldn’t be on the rise, if we had legitimate, viable renewable energy sources to replace oil and natural gas.  Electric cars are back on the mini-rise, so what is the hold-up for municipalities to sign on to renewable sources again??

One friend of mine works as a Director of Utility Sales at SunTech, one of the largest solar manufacturers in the world, and I remember him telling me that solar simply won’t scale to serve the urban mainstream grid.  That was in 2010; have things changed?  He said that solar is best used for stand-alone structures (i.e. Google wanting to power their campus, or a family wanting to power their own house); or in remote locations (i.e., emergency phones along the freeway, or in developing countries).

renewable energyAnother friend from Chile is doing post-doctorate work at the Energy & Resources Group at UC Berkeley.  His focus: developing hardware (and associated software) to enable solar energy to be stored for future/larger use in commercial buildings.

And then there is a duo of guys whose specialty is testing promising new mega-sites for wind power.  Apparently, to test new sites of this size, you get helicoptered into tops of mountains and set up a few turbines with cool technology to research viability.  If the resulting data is a thumbs up, then the wind companies spend millions building roads to the sites and trucking all the equipment to set up a whole wind farm.

This is all happening…  Working in sustainable agriculture, I’m confused about and am wanting to understand where the “levers of change” are for us to get this (renewable) show on the road!

Looks like I will be having some fun convos with some old friends in the next few weeks and will post what I hear.


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