It sounds like a crazy conspiracy -- too extreme to be true. Flaming tap water, dead animals, secret chemical formulas, mysterious illnesses afflicting whole communities, and people afraid to speak up.
The November 11th episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation brought viewers to a small town taken over by -- industrial gas drilling. The storyline in "Fracked" follows the investigators as they attempt to uncover the truth behind two murders, but end up discovering a much bigger crime: an industry destroying people's lives with no accountability.
Although the story told on CSI is fictional, the parallels to real life are stark. In Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and several other states, the method of gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing has wreaked havoc on people's lives. Across the country hydraulic fracturing has been linked to many cases of water so polluted with gas that you can actually light it on fire.
Hydraulic fracturing (or “hydro-fracking”) involves pumping millions of gallons of toxic chemicals deep underground to break up rock formations and release pockets of gas. The process can lead to contamination of underground drinking water sources, as well as severe land and air pollution above ground.
Like in the CSI episode, many people who have been impacted by hydraulic fracturing have been forced to keep silent, signing nondisclosure agreements in order to receive small settlements—or even just deliveries of drinkable water. But the stories that have come to light don’t paint a rosy picture of the gas industry.
Last year in Louisiana, sixteen cows dropped dead within hours of drinking from puddles tainted with a mysterious green fluid in a pasture next to a fracking well site. Chesapeake Energy, the company that owned the rig, refused to identify the chemicals in the fluid.
In 2008, a woman who briefly came into contact with fracturing fluids nearly died from acute liver, heart, and respiratory failure. Cathy Behr, an emergency room nurse in Durago, Colorado, treated a worker from a gas well site who was caught in a chemical spill. Behr spent just 10 minutes with the patient upon his initial entry to the hospital—putting his chemical-laced clothing into a bag and helping him to clean off. Despite her limited exposure, she immediately lost her sense of smell and rapidly became gravely ill. As doctors fought to save Behr’s life, the company that manufactured the chemicals refused to reveal the composition of the fluid—calling the formula a trade secret.
And just a few days ago in Colorado, a woman who spent years in close proximity to numerous gas wells died after a prolonged battle with a rare form of cancer. Drilling rigs were located as close as 300 feet from Chris Mobaldi’s home in Rifle, Colorado between 1997 and 2004. Mobaldi was diagnosed with her first pituitary tumor four years after gas drilling began in the area, and experienced other rare ailments that indicated severe brain damage. Mobaldi’s doctors say that exposure to contaminants from the nearby drilling activities is to blame, but there have been no studies on the long-term health consequences of exposure to fracking chemicals. Now Mobaldi’s husband is seeking to donate her body for medical research and struggling to find anyone who can help.
As in the CSI episode, there are few resources to help the real life people who are fighting this nightmare in their backyards, and the industry is often completely unregulated and unaccountable for the devastation they cause.
Gas companies don't have to tell residents, state agencies—or even hospitals—what chemicals they use at drilling sites because hydraulic fracturing is specifically exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act through a provision nicknamed “the Halliburton Loophole.” Due to the Halliburton Loophole, and a host of other loopholes for the gas industry, the EPA has absolutely no power to regulate hydraulic fracturing.
In response to the situation, some states and towns are taking matters into their own hands and saying “No” to hydraulic fracturing. The City of Pittsburgh recently banned hydraulic fracturing within city limits by invoking its citizens’ rights to clean air and water.
But despite small victories, most politicians in our state capitols and Congress are ignoring the devastating warning signs: the sick people, the poisoned water wells. They want us to believe—and they believe themselves—that natural gas is a clean miracle fuel.
The FRAC Act—which would close the notorious Halliburton Loophole and force hydraulic fracturing to be regulated by the EPA—has gained little support in Congress. Instead, lawmakers in both parties are finding common ground championing legislation that would give $5 billion in subsidies to the natural gas industry. Outrageously, these politicians want to sell us on natural gas as the solution to climate change, the magic bullet for getting America off foreign oil, and as the “clean” alternative to offshore oil drilling. It is none of those things.
It’s time for politicians across the U.S. to wake up and realize that natural gas is not a miracle substance or a “clean transition fuel,” it’s a bridge to nowhere.
I got involved in this fight because hydraulic fracturing came to my home in rural upstate New York. But this is an issue that affects millions—and not just people in isolated farming communities. Gas companies want to put 30,000 gas wells in the area where 15 million people get their drinking water: that’s New York City, Philadelphia, half of New Jersey, and 80 percent of Delaware.
It sounds too crazy to be true, but it might happen if we don’t get organized to stop it now. The only way we’re going to defeat the gas industry and protect our water is if people become informed about these practices on a massive scale. Please encourage your friends to see the documentary Gasland. And click here to take action and urge leaders in Congress to dump the subsidies for dirty gas, and make the gas industry obey the basic laws that protect our water and our future.