07/18/2013 09:10 am ET Updated Sep 17, 2013

We Latinos Better Learn This Word: Fracking

If we Latinos in the U.S. think the word "fracking" is a foreign concept of little concern to our daily lives, we need to be reminded that what you don't know can indeed harm you.

We must be aware of this concept because what is at stake here is the safety of our food and water supply, and the viability of the agricultural fields where hundreds of thousands of Latinos work. Fracking throughout the country is putting both at risk.

Fracking rig in Delaware

Fracking -- short for hydraulic fracturing -- is a form of natural gas extraction that pumps millions of gallons of water mixed with toxic chemicals deep into the ground to fracture the rock and release this fossil fuel. Most of this toxic brew stays in the ground, where it can contaminate underground water tables and wells. Some ends up on the surface, where it can pollute other sources of drinking water.

Since 2004, tens of thousands of fracking wells have been drilled in rural areas, mostly in the South, Northeast and Rocky Mountain states.

But fracking is now moving to areas of the country where large Latino populations live, most importantly California. Big Oil and Big Gas have been conducting the biggest land-grab in the state's modern history, buying up water and oil rights on tens of thousands of acres of both private and public land. Much of this land-grab is occurring above an area of oil and gas deposits known as the Monterey Shale.

But the Monterey Shale also happens to lie underneath some of the most fertile farming land in the country's largest agricultural state. This area is the source of most of California's $43 billion worth of agricultural production.

According to a study by the Ground Water Protection Council, fracking involves the use of almost 600 chemicals, many of them highly toxic, including the following:

  • Hydrochloric acid, a corrosive agent that can severely damage any part of the human body upon contact.
  • Glutaraldehyde, a sterilizing compound that causes asthma, respiratory irritation and skin rashes.
  • N,N-dimethyl formamide, a solvent than can cause birth defects and cancer.
  • Benzene, a potent carcinogen.

But fracking companies are not required by law to reveal what chemicals they use. In fact, these companies are exempt of the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the CLEAR Act, and from regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The water contamination fracking can cause is so severe, farmers in Pennsylvania can literally ignite their water as it comes out of the faucet. In Louisiana, 16 cows began foaming and bleeding at the mouth and dropped dead after drinking water from a fracked well.

The water and food supply of millions of Americans has been compromised by this reckless method of gas extraction, and now Big Gas is aiming for the richest agricultural land in the country, the California farm fields, where tens of thousands of Latinos earn their living.

But Latinos in California are starting to express concern about fracking and the lack of proper oversight over the industry. In a recent poll from the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times, 55 percent of Latino voters in California support "an immediate ban on fracking" that can only be lifted by the state legislature -- an opinion shared by just 42 percent of white voters. And an overwhelming 78 percent of Latino voters say fracking should either be banned in California or that stronger regulations are needed to hold companies accountable for the risks.

Across the country, we Latinos have a major stake in this fight. And fracking should no longer sound like a foreign concept to us. It's right here at home and indeed can harm us all.