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Farmers Getting Fracked

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Vintner Steve Lyons of Santa Barbara County was stunned when he found an oil well in his vineyard in 2011. Veneco Inc. owns his mineral rights and proceeded to drill and frack a well without even notifying Lyons.

Keith Gardiner is a third-generation Kern County farmer whose three 50-year-old deepwater wells were contaminated with chloride. He suspects the oil field tank farm and disposal well next to his property. The investigation will probably take years to prove, just like farmer Fred Starrh's eight-year, $8.5 million judgment against Aera Energy. Aera contaminated Starrh's groundwater with frack wastewater, and now he is suing Aera for $2 billion in punitive damages to clean up his aquifer.

Kern County farmer Mike Hopkins is suing the California Division of Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). Hopkins does not own his mineral rights and claims DOGGR exempted CEQA requirements for Veneco Inc. to drill in his orchards. His cherry orchard is dying because of high levels of toxic chloride in his groundwater. He suspects a nearby oil field as the cause, and fears oil wells on his property will only cause further contamination.

Oil companies' encroachment onto prime farmland has soured the mutual existence of the oil and agriculture industries. The oil companies' impunity has united Kern County farmers, who have formed the Committee to Protect Farmland and Clean Water. The committee complained to the county supervisors of the oil industry's encroachment on their farmland without notice and polluting their groundwater, soil and air. These actions convinced the county supervisors to start crafting an interim public process for resolving land-use conflicts.

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