So I took to the streets at a Green Party-organized protest. We
stood outside the regional Department of Environmental Protection and
made our voices heard.
So just what is fracking? It's short for "hydraulic fracturing" and it's a dirty process for extracting natural gas from the ground. ProPublica, which has this nifty graphic and a whole investigative series on the subject, defines it simply:
Hydraulic fracturing is a process used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States, where millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock and release the gas.
And where do those chemicals go? And what chemicals are they? Well, that's a big part of the problem.
So what's in this stuff? Hydrochloric acid, solvents, surfactants, petroleum-based lubricants, corrosion inhibitors, microbe killers. Basically, it's a lot of the same carcinogenic chemicals found in household cleaners like Formula 409 and Drano.
Forbes, which is quoted above, goes on to say that generally "most of the fracking fluids are recovered." But when there are thousands of wells, "most" isn't good enough. "Most" - especially when wells are exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, like they are here in PA, and subject to pretty much no regulation - is just not good enough when it results in things like this:
GAS COMMISSIONER: If a well is drilled next to your residence or near your residence within the legal setbacks, and there's a perceived or real impact on your property value, we don't address that.
NARRATOR: In 2001, gas wells were drilled using the fracking technique a mere 500 feet from the Amos home. Underground, the drilling breached their water well, causing their drinking water to fill with grey sediment and fizz like soda pop. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission tested the water well and found methane but said it was safe. But they warned the Amoses to keep a window open, so the methane gas wouldn't build up and cause an explosion in their home. The Amoses stopped drinking the water but continued to bathe in it.
Not even a decade into the widespread use of this technology, we've already seen a lot of what's wrong with it.
The spills, which occurred at a well site run by Cabot Oil and Gas, involve a compound manufactured by Halliburton that is described as a "potential carcinogen" and is used in the drilling process of hydraulic fracturing, according to state officials. The contaminants have seeped into a nearby creek, where a fish kill was reported by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP also reported fish "swimming erratically".
Don't buy into the greenwashing. There is nothing clean, nothing green, nothing environmentally friendly about natural gas. It IS a fossil fuel. It IS poisoning our water. It IS produced by the same gas companies that never have, and still don't, care about the innocent people they're hurting in so many ways.
Mayer, a heavyset Vietnam vet, shouldn't be smoking this cigarette because his house and property are inundated with high levels of methane gas. There's so much of it that he can hold a barbecue lighter up to his tap and watch his drinking water explode in a blue fireball.
Mayer blames his problems on natural gas drilling operations a few miles away. He believes the methane escaped during hydraulic fracturing (a process that involves shooting water, sand and a mix of chemicals deep into the ground to break up rock and release gas), then migrated through two underground fissures that converge about 100 feet from his well. Industry representatives disagree, as does New York's Department of Environmental Conservation. Without ever visiting Mayer's home, the DEC issued a notice of cleanup on Feb. 25, 2009. No such cleanup ever took place.
So I went to a protest today. A few Green candidates were there, and they all spoke. This includes Hugh Giordano, a strong union-backed candidate for state representative in Philadelphia, and Mel Packer, who's running for US Senate. (Although the Democrats are clearly better than the Republicans on this issue, the Greens are really standing up for the moratorium.) A few others spoke, too. Only about a dozen and a half people were there, but we had a microphone and a lot of signs! Seriously, though, this is just part of a growing movement against this unnatural gas production, a movement that is saying to Democratic Governer Ed Rendell (who helped give out over 5,000 permits to drillers) and others responsible for this disgusting policy: NO FRACKING WAY!
We're demanding a moratorium on natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania.
In fact, we're so serious about this that we're protesting Governor Rendell this Saturday night while he receives an award for allegedly being a "green" governor (gimme a break!). If you want to come, show up at Walnut and Front Streets in Philadelphia at 7 PM this Saturday.
So what's being done about it? And what can we do as citizens? Well, small progress is being made on the national scale through things like the EPA's recently announced study of natural gas drilling, which is kind of like the wild west of the energy world right now. And Democratic lawmakers are trying to impose some regulations on these drillers, like actually getting rid of the bizarre exemption they have from Safe Drinking Water Act.
You can learn more about the FRAC Act, which would implement some much needed reforms nationally, here.
But why is the government even encouraging natural gas drilling when there's a climate crisis and multiple other environmental crises linked to this? What's needed more than ever is more people demanding a stop to these inane, purely profit-driven practices.
So here's what you can do, especially if you're in Pennsylvania:
1. Call Governor Rendell to demand a moratorium on this: 717-787-2500
2. Check out local environmental groups involved with this. In PA, that includes the Green Party and the Environmental Working Group. Check out your state here.
3. If you're a Pennsylvania Democrat, vote for Joe Hoeffel in the gubernatorial primary - he's the only candidate who supports a moratorium.
4. Check out the movie Gasland and the blog for more info on this, along with the links in the article.