The people know the truth: Fracking just isn’t safe


This past week, the natural gas industry — the people who’ve brought fracking to a community near you — held a major convention in Philadelphia, not far from the Marcellus Shale region where some of the most frenetic drilling is taking place. Inside a gleaming convention center, the multi-millionaire CEOs of Big Gas and their political hand-puppets like the Republican governor of Pennsylvania, sought to reassure the world that fracking is a safe, clean way of producing not just cheap, clean energy for America but also good, plentiful jobs.

But outside the hall, on the streets of Philadelphia, a different kind of confab was taking place. There were hundreds of folks from all over Pennsylvania and from upstate New York — many came from as far as a couple hundred miles away, on their own hard-earned dime. These self-styled “fracktivists” were there not only to protest the Shale Gas Impact conference, but also to tell their own stories, of what it’s really like to live near a fracking rig. For example:

Tammy Manning of Susquehanna County said the gases around her well recently tested at 82 percent methane. She said she was told to leave the water running all the time because if the gas built up, it could cause her house to explode.


Carol French, a dairy farmer who lives 11/2 miles from a natural-gas drilling site in Bradford County, Pa., said her water often comes out white and turns gelatinous after sitting out for a half-hour. While the drilling company was at work, French said, her daughter became extremely ill, with bloody stool and enlarged organs.

Ray Kemble of Dimock, Pa., the town featured in the Gasland documentary, held up a jug that he said held water from his well that was the color of apple juice. According to government tests, he said, it is contaminated with weapons-grade uranium, arsenic, and other carcinogens.

Oh, and about those good jobs:

Charlotte Bevins said she and her mother rose at 4 a.m. to drive to Philadelphia from West Virginia. Bevins said her brother Charles was supervising a forklift for a natural-gas contractor, at $13 an hour, last year. He was killed when the forklift sank into the mud, pinning him between the forklift and a building.

“After talking to his coworkers, they tell me there’s no safe way to do this,” Bevins said. “They’re always using the cheapest, the quickest thing they can.” Bevins said her brother, a 23-year-old father of two, was working 15-day stretches with five days off in between.

This is the reality of fracking for people from coast to coast. It is nothing like the fantasy portrayal that was taking place inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center — a world where drinking water is never contaminated and no one ever gets sick as a result. There, industry officials were also patting themselves on the back for self-reporting the chemicals that they use in drilling. But as Bloomberg News reported this summer, the truth comes nowhere near their rhetoric:

In a little-noticed Aug 2012 report, Bloomberg News reported that gas and oil energy companies failed to comply with their own voluntary plan to disclose chemicals in their operations — and, further, failed to report on the very existence of half of their wells.

The report analyzed the efficacy of “” — a voluntary reporting mechanism designed by oil and gas companies amidst growing calls for mandatory disclosure and federal guidelines of the highly controversial technology.

“Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year,” according to the Bloomberg report.

This is so typical of the way the industry does business. Look, the bottom line on fracking is this: Yes, it’s true that natural gas is a somewhat cleaner way of producing energy than some of the fuels that it replaces — coal, for example. But that’s only part of the equation. To justify fracking, drilling needs to be conducted in a safe manner, with no harm to humans or to the environment, and that clearly is not happening under current laws and with today’s industry practices. But also, the rush to frack has caused America to ignore the cleanest kinds of energy:

Thanks to shale gas drilling, natural gas is cheap — so cheap that it’s taken investment away from renewables. NextEra Energy Inc. cancelled plans for new wind power projects thanks to cheap gas, according to Greenwire, and the U.S. government has said that the low price of natural gas of wind energy.

Wind power comprised approximately 42 percent of the added electricity capacity in the United States in 2008 and 2009, and this declined to 25 percent in 2010 and 32 percent in 2011. Funding for clean energy overall plummeted in the first quarter of 2012 to just $27 billion — down 28 percent from the previous quarter.

So instead of creating a “bridge” to renewables, what shale gas has done is allow us to substitute one dirty fuel (coal) for another (fracked gas), likely making climate change even more costly and destructive in the coming decades.

Meanwhile, renewables have proven that they can forge ahead when policies are in place to support them. Germany is a renewable energy leader, getting 10 percent of the country’s power from renewables.

This is the real tragedy of fracking. Every day we invest in wanton natural gas drilling is a day that we postpone a clean energy future, free from fossil fuels and free from the influence of Big Oil and Big Gas. Until then, everyday folks like the ones who flooded Philadelphia last week are going to pay the price. The silver lining is that people — whether by taking it to the streets or hiring a good environmental lawyer — are fighting back.

To read more about the “fracktivist” protests in Philadelphia last week, please read:

To learn more about the failure of natural gas companies to properly report their fracking activities, please read:

Check more about how fracking is harming the push for renewables at:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved


Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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