Photo by AllClearMedia via flickr
Louisiana’s bayous are collapsing into record-sized sinkholes. Houses melt from the heat of a gas pipeline fire in Sissonville, West Virginia. Livestock in South Dakota lose their tails from chemical contamination of their air, land, and water. California, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming sell off public lands to promote corporate profit. No community – wild or civilized – is safe from the devastating impacts of hydraulic fracturing.
As an activist, writer, and a lover of the planet, I am not sure what more I can say to convince other Americans that we must act. The photos of sinkholes and fires scarring the landscape are not enough. Personal stories of parents whose children are sick from air and water contamination inspire tears but not action. I am left wondering what stands in the way of the protection of the health and safety of our communities, and the best conclusion that I can come to is money.
The economic justification for this environmental abuse is sick. Pennsylvania communities are told that in exchange for the health of their families and farms, they will receive high-paying jobs, lucrative land-leasing contracts, and an overall booming economy. Those landowners that choose to sell out future generations are rewarded with signing bonuses and contaminated water.
There are some states willing to turn their backs on the economic payoffs from the natural gas industry. Vermont became the first state in nation to ban the hydraulic fracturing process. New York placed a moratorium on fracking. And Maryland just held a conference earlier this month to create open dialogue about this controversial practice. (Maryland threatened to sue Chesapeake Energy in 2011 for a blowout that occurred at a well site in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. The blowout contaminated the Susquehanna River, which flows into the Chesapeake Watershed.)
What do communities really receive economically in return for the threat posed to their health and environment? Well, we know that the natural gas industry could reap tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars from production. It is not such a financially lucrative situation for the state, however, which would only receive a small fraction of the billions made by companies through taxation. For instance, some states, like Ohio, use a severance tax, which is applied per cubic feet of natural gas harvested. There are some states, though, that do not apply a severance tax. Pennsylvania and West Virginia, for instance, utilize a fee structure rather than a tax structure. The basic argument is that taxing the industry raises the cost on to the consumer – i.e. the price of natural gas increases for local residents. But in states that have felt the presence of this industry for years before the latest boom, a reasonable tax structure is already in place.
Here is the kicker – more than a fair amount of the natural gas harvested in the United States will be exported to other nations. All of the rhetoric about “national security” and the importance of “domestic energy” development is a smokescreen for multinationals to profit off of the destruction of our homeland.
This struggle is no longer resigned to the regional and state level. All of our representatives are failing their constituents by permitting the use of a controversial and dangerous drilling technique under minimal regulation. While President Obama promised to preserve public lands, he has done nothing to protect rural communities, small farmers, college campuses, and families from the corporate greed poisoning our democracy and contaminating our water. State governments are sitting on their hands in Pennsylvania, where out-of-state companies are eyeing up state forests because they “own” the rights to minerals underneath the forest floor. Who can we turn to? It is time to face facts. There is a very real price to pay for multinational profit. We are the sacrificial lambs.
This injustice need not continue. As fracking sites continue to pop up across my home state of Pennsylvania – and across the nation – we need to continue to foster dialogue in our communities through meetings, letters to the editor, and protests – whatever strategies work best in your region. The fight must begin at the local and state level, but we have got to keep our eye on the White House, now more than ever. As a lame duck, President Obama need not fear political retribution for progressive political decisions. While skepticism may fuel righteous rage, we must channel it through positive means toward the end of fossil fuel domination.
Let us join together now and vow to defeat the natural gas industry’s proto-fascist land grabs and demolition of democracy.