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The Frack Hack 

As the EPA investigates, a Brown appointee flees

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There's an old joke about state departments of conservation that holds that they're really better in the department of conversations about environmental issues. They talk the talk but don't necessarily walk it—especially in the face of deep-pocket special interests. In the case of California, it's a petrochemical industry that has gushed more than $2 million into the pro-fracking campaign coffers of Gov. Jerry Brown.

I was reminded of the canard last week when, on the same day (June 4), the EPA released a draft report on hydraulic fracturing and its impact on water safety, Brown's head of the California Department of Conservation abruptly quit his post.

The Los Angeles Times broke the latter story and reminded readers that Mark Nechodom was a Brown appointee already in the EPA crosshairs. Under his watch, the Times reported, he allowed "oil producers to drill thousands of oilfield wastewater disposal wells into federally protected aquifers."

Nechodom's resignation came a day after a federal racketeering lawsuit was filed on behalf of Central Valley farmers. They accuse Brown of an oleaginous conspiracy, the Times noted, which "deprived Kern County farmers of access to clean water."

Meanwhile, the EPA report on fracking sparked an instant Rorschach moment in a frack-happy media eager to downplay any note of caution. The report concluded that while there's been some evidence that water has been contaminated through fracking, it's not a systemic problem. To the Wall Street Journal, the EPA report meant that the drilling practice, utilized in places like Kern County, was totally safe.

Nobody seemed to take much note that the EPA report warned of potential vulnerabilities that could render fracking a systemic problem, if left unchecked, unregulated—or, perchance, in the hands of oil-friendly agency heads such as the departed Nechodom. The first vulnerability the EPA identified was "water withdrawals in areas with low water availability."

Such as, say, Kern County.

Time to cue the appropriate line from Chinatown: "Let me explain something to you, Governor. This business requires a certain amount of finesse."

Tom Gogola is the news editor for this paper.

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