By Herb Detweiler
Detweiler is retired and lives in the Roanoke Valley.
The paper recently carried an op-ed entitled “Virginia should be fracking.”
Before anyone jumps on the fracking bandwagon, he or she should read a book that came out this summer entitled “The Real Cost of Fracking — How America’s shale gas boom is threatening our families, pets and food.” It was written by Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald.
This is not a book of scientific theory or speculation. It is a collection of actual stories and interviews that reveal the harrowing experiences of small farmers and rural families in Pennsylvania who succumbed to the siren song of the man from the gas company who painted a rosy picture of wealth to be theirs merely for allowing the company to drill for shale gas on their property. They were assured that the drilling was perfectly safe and would last only for a short time.
Regrettably, not a few have lost their animals, their livelihoods, their pets, their health and their peace of mind as a consequence of fracking.
The frightening practice of fracking is happening because of a cozy relationship between the fracking industry and legislators. There is an old saying: Silence is the sound of money talking. That certainly seems to be true in the case of fracking.
In 2005, no doubt in anticipation of possible problems resulting from their future activities in extracting oil and gas via the fracking process, the industry lobbied some very favorable legislation, passed as part of the Energy Policy Act — key provisions of our federal environmental statutes.
To start with, companies engaged in this process are allowed to conceal the names of the chemicals in the toxic cocktails they blast down holes in the ground. No other industry can withhold such information.
Further, and almost unbelievably, such companies are not required to monitor their emissions. As the authors state, “Methane may seep out of well casings; heavy metals may slosh out of flowback pits; benzene may rise from wellheads and compressor stations; radon may be pushed through pipelines; formaldehyde may flow from flare stacks. But no one is routinely monitoring these potentially deadly emissions and their cumulative impact.”
Also silent are state and federal public health and environmental agencies that so far have looked the other way. Pennsylvania has more than 6,000 active gas wells, along with more than 3,300 documented violations, and there is much more fracking to come. Yet, neither the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection nor the federal EPA has conducted comprehensive measurements of air and water contaminants.
It was a dogged reporter from the Scranton Times-Tribune who last year discovered deep in the records of the state DEP the fact that there had been 161 cases of water contamination due to fracking in Pennsylvania. When the EPA conducted an inquiry and uncovered actual evidence of contamination in people’s drinking water, it bowed to industry pressure and suspended all further investigation.
Another way the fracking industry enables silence is through the nondisclosure agreements they force on those who have been harmed by their actions and who have entered into money settlement agreements. The book’s authors therefore use pseudonyms for the families who decided they could no longer keep silent.
A law in Pennsylvania called Act 13 says that a doctor may obtain information from a drilling company about the toxic chemicals to which a patient may have been exposed, but he is forbidden by law from speaking out or warning the public, including public health authorities, about this danger.
A practice that makes it difficult for property owners to prove that it was the chemicals used by the drilling companies that sickened their families, killed their livestock and pets or poisoned their crops, is that no tests are done on the air, water or soil in the area before the drilling takes place, thus enabling the companies to say, “There is no proof that we are responsible.”
In many ways, this book reveals that the fracking industry has taken a position similar to that of the tobacco industry for decades — deny, deny, deny.
There is much more to be learned from the sadly shocking true stories these families tell. After “listening” to them, can any caring person still favor the rape of the environment represented by the fracking industry for Virginia — or any place else?
What price are we willing to pay for our carbon-produced energy?