By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Scores of people worried about the environmental effects of gas and oil drilling in the US, gathered at the Stop the Frack Attack conference in Dallas this weekend.
The conference brought together activists and community members from Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Arkansas, Colorado and Wyoming, where a growing chorus of groups say that the new techniques of “fracking” oil and gas are unleashing water and air pollutants.
Steven Lipsky, a homeowner from west of Fort Worth, showed the audience of about 250 a video of how he can light his well water on fire because it’s accompanied by so much methane. This trick became possible after a company, Range Resources, drilled for gas on neighboring property.
Lipsky suspects the drilling released the noxious gases into his water, and a report by the EPA verified that contaminants are present. Range Resources maintains that the methane is “naturally occurring.” Lipsky has sued Range. The company has counter-sued. The EPA had ordered Range to supply Lipsky with clean water, and then withdrew the directive, apparently caving to industry pressure. (The case continues to evolve, read more).
Lipsky, and many others who’ve been dealing with drilling-related water contamination, have been fighting for years for remediation or solutions, often failing to get help from state regulators and an EPA that has been only erratically involved. A complicating factor is that the Bush Administration exempted gas and oil drilling from the Clean Water Act under a measure known as the Halliburton Loophole.
Filmmaker Josh Fox was among the first to expose how the “Halliburton Loophole” and pro-business sentiment left residents affected by drilling contamination in the lurch. His movie Gasland (2010) became a hit and drew attention to the problems left behind at fracking sites from Colorado to Pennsylvania.
Fox, who’s working on Gasland II, joined the conference attendees by Skype on Saturday.
“This is a strong community and it never ceases to amaze me. We all know how hard it is to stay in this fight. It can go on for years,” Fox said, recalling how he felt when he first learned that his family’s land was slated for drilling. He worried that they’d lose streams and ecosystems alive with nature; that they’d become the “moonscapes” that parts of extensively drilled Wyoming had turned into.
“America was being invaded in a way that had never happened before,” he recalled. “They say it’s about US energy,” he said. But it’s about international corporations and profits.
Today, several years into the fracking frenzy, American citizens are still being presented with the choice of leasing their land to drilling operations — and risking contaminated air and water — or moving out of the way, Fox said. That’s what it boils down to: “Stand and fight, or move.”
The fight over fracking has become so vigorous because unlike conventional drilling, fracking consumes billions of gallons of water and dozens of toxic chemicals, all forced into the earth to create horizontal fissures deep in shale rock formations. Residents have reported that leaking wells and equipment at the surface release carcinogenic benzene, methane and toxic volatile organic compounds. Rural well owners have reported methane contamination that’s made their wells unusable. Testing in Wyoming revealed pollution in surface water from wells on the Wind River Reservation, which was among the first officially verified fracking pollution.
In his address, Fox said the fracking fight has become a fight for democracy as well, as communities struggle to get their elected leaders to listen and care about what the people want, instead of voting for their campaign contributors.
“Every dollar flowing into Congress, Austin, Harrisburg and Albany from the oil and gas industry is contaminating democracy,” he said.
Fox praised the community leaders who gathered 204,000 petition signatures that helped, for the moment, stop fracking in New York state.
Many people have got the backs of community organizers, he said, including all the living Beatles and them members of their family. “Fracking’s just not cool,” he quipped.
He also quoted Yoko Ono — a founding member with Sean Lennon, Susan Sarandon of Artists Against Fracking — who observed on a recent trip to Dimock, PA, that the people fighting fracking are not just college activists but “real people.”
The anti-fracking movement has rallied regular folks, Fox said. From the “earthquake lady” who monitors seismic activity in Arkansas (arguably attributable to drilling) to the man with the warning sign “Don’t Tread on Me” in Pennsylvania, to many others, these “real people” have rediscovered community and have the power to rewrite history, he said to cheers from the crowd in the Best Western meeting room in Dallas.
“These are the stories that create our reality…,” Fox said. “This is a moment of authorship of the United States.”
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