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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/19/15

Death by Fracking

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There are more than 15 million Americans, many of them children, who live within a mile of a fracking site. Most are being exposed daily to a deadly brew of toxins. Because the oil and gas industry is not required under law to disclose the chemicals used in fracking, communities are not told what is being injected into their groundwater. The array of carcinogens is known to the public only through analysis of samples taken at sites. These samples include endocrine disruptors and chemicals such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Infrared cameras set up by activists show plumes of methane and other hydrocarbon gases, invisible to the naked eye, spiraling upward from underground fracking sites. Methane is a greenhouse gas whose potential for trapping heat and therefore for global warming has been estimated at 86 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.

Those who live around fracking sites often suffer skin rashes, nosebleeds, headaches, respiratory problems, premature births and cancers. Yet the corporations, along with our governments, doggedly refuse to link the diseases to fracking. This is a pattern familiar to all who live in sacrifice zones. Corporations have no intention of being held accountable for what they do. That would cost money.

"A lot of people around me have cancer," said Mossett. "I'm a cancer survivor. It has become something that is normal for us. It comes in all forms -- bone cancer, lung cancer, uterine cancer and prostate cancer, amongst others. Even before the fracking began we had seven coal-fired power plants in North Dakota. Every inch of our over 11,000 miles of rivers, lakes and streams are already contaminated with mercury. Then fracking started to take off around 2006. People, at first, had no clue what was coming. Infrastructure started to be built. We got water towers through the rural water department. Many saw this as positive. A brand new bridge was built over Lake Sakakawea."

But once the infrastructure was in place it became apparent that it had been built to facilitate the extraction of oil by fracking, not improve the lives of those on North Dakota's reservations.

White people are not the only problem. The fracking corporations, Mossett said, easily bought off local tribal leaders. "Our tribal council [of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation] sold us out. The council gave away sovereignty rights to allow the oil industry to operate on tribal lands. The council signed contracts to give away parcels of land. It set up front companies, since you have to be native if you frack on native land." [The events that Mossett criticized occurred before the election of a new chairman last year.]

Cancer rages like a plague across the reservations.

"The Centers for Disease Control do not show clusters of cancers in our communities," Mossett said. "This is because illness and sickness are coded out of the place where referrals are made. Since we don't have a hospital to treat these illnesses, patients are referred to a clinic like the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis. So the huge clusters of cancers on the reservation are not properly documented."

The fracking industry in much of North Dakota, rather than extract the subterranean gas, burns it off in jets of flame known as flares. It trucks out the more valuable oil.

"The flares burn all day and all night," Mossett said. "There are hundreds of them. They are loud. There is enough gas produced from these flares, some have estimated, to heat half a million homes every day. And all this is going into the atmosphere. Then came the waste injection sites. The trucks began to dump what they called 'produced water' [toxics and water injected underground and later brought to the surface as waste water] onto the roads. It covered our roads. It filled our ditches with toxic chemicals. I drove past a ditch near Mandaree on the Fort Berthold Reservation and it was on fire. The fields and pastures along the roads are being poisoned."

The dilemma facing activists is that the enemy is not only the corporations but also the federal and state governments. Federal and state authority is a tool used by corporations to make legal what should be illegal. Nonviolent, democratic dissent is criminalized. This creates a terrifying dilemma. If, as it does, the law slavishly serves the interests of the corporate criminals, how is justice to be obtained? If the law, as it does, outlaws legitimate democratic and nonviolent dissent, how is dissent to be expressed? If we cannot receive, as we cannot, justice from the courts or state and federal legislators, where will justice come from? If we cannot legally impede the destruction of our communities, what are the physical methods we will have to employ to save ourselves?

"The corporations fight us with the government," said Aguirre. "The DOGGR [California's Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources] makes the claim that activists want to take jobs from neighbors and families. It claims we are killing the economy. ... The acute health impacts that occur in the communities, the disproportionate toxic fumes that these communities breathe, are never factored in. Our community members are already marginalized. They live in low-income communities. They can't afford or don't have health care coverage. And they don't have a voice.

"I have been followed by numerous diesel engine trucks [as I made] toxic tours with my constituents, taking them to fracking projects and refineries to percolation ponds, evaporation ponds," Aguirre said. "I've been threatened at public hearings. I've been called a communist and a socialist. I've been called a mouth runner, someone who has been paid by some group to stir up the community. The board supervisors of my community have told me to stop doing what I am doing. These are the same elected officials who are cashing in on the industry."

Justice will come by defying the institutions that claim to maintain justice. Truth will be heard by defying the institutions that claim to speak truth. The law will be upheld by breaking the law. Power will be obtained by overthrowing the power of the corporation state. We will save ourselves by facing the grim and unpleasant truth that all of the established mechanisms designed to carry out reform, including what we still call American democracy, is in corporate hands. We must unleash the power of the powerless. We must use our bodies to obstruct these forces of death to protect life. We must refuse to cooperate in our own destruction. Fracking is one assault. There are many, many others. But they all will lead to the same fatal conclusion if we do not rise up and resist.

I admire these activists, men and women who soldier forward. They understand the imperative of a new radicalism. They speak in the language of revolution. They know if we are to have a future it will entail mass acts of sustained civil disobedience and jail time. This resistance will mean that we court violence, maybe even our deaths. Corporations will use every weapon in their vast arsenals to bend us to their will. But if we do not begin to openly rebel, if we do not reverse the corporate coup d'etat that has taken place, the world bequeathed to our children will be a holocaust.

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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