Welcome to Frackland

By | February 15, 2013 at 7:12 am | No comments

Barren, empty hydraulic fracturing lots – somewhere over California. Photo by Beelaineo via flickr

Your state is in serious debt. It has a long history of labor struggles and industrialization. You and your neighbors are hard-working people, coming from generations of miners, drillers, and steel workers. Unfortunately, the federal economic recovery plan is not proving helpful in your neck of the woods. Unemployment is still rampant, and folks are desperate for work and money.

Out of the blue, men in khaki pants and ties begin knocking on doors. They want to solve people’s money problems; they want to buy the mineral rights to farms and backyards for thousands of dollars. In exchange, companies get the opportunity to harvest natural gas from deep below the surface of the land and profit from its distribution. The added bonus – jobs. Jobs, jobs, and more jobs. These companies need workers, and those workers will frequent local businesses. There is no down to this situation.

Or is there?

Soon after test wells are bored, the land is denuded. Roads are built across vast stretches of farmland and forest. Trees are uprooted and slain. The water level of local streams and rivers drops.

Traffic increases. Large trucks deliver millions of gallons of water to the sites all day long. Their weight exceeds the limit established for these back roads, and day after day, small bridges crumble and potholes expand, damaging local vehicles. The noise aggravates neighbors who were used to their quiet, country living. Children are no longer allowed to race their bicycles along the winding roads because their parents do not trust the truck drivers.

That may be just as well because the air smells different. More children in the neighborhood are staying inside because their asthma is aggravated by the smell. Some of these children never had asthma before, and their families do not have a history of it.

You head to the pub on Thursday night. Your notice that your favorite lager is on tap as you take a seat at the bar. It isn’t long before you hear a few of your neighbors complaining about their water. They say it is turning yellow and a brackish brown. It smells awful. They get headaches and become nauseous when they shower. Your friends’ daughter is having dizzy spells and faints several times a week. The bartender warns the pair to watch their words. He doesn’t want to hear anyone implying that the natural gas companies have anything to do with it. Business is good.

From the back corner of the pub, you hear a young woman yelling at someone to get their hands off of her. As you turn your head, you see an unfamiliar man shove her against the wall before walking away with three of his friends. They make perverted gestures with their hands on their way out the door. One of the woman’s friends leaves her barstool to see if she’s okay. That’s when you recognize her – she’s a teller at the local bank. She always hands you a dog biscuit at the drive-thru for Scout.

Business looks good for the bartender for now. But how long will that last when the new customers drive away all of the regulars?

So when do the new jobs appear. The gas company has been working in the area for over a year, but all of your welder friends are on the road, building pipeline out of state. They spend weeks on end away from their families, renting apartments in unfamiliar towns. Some of them spend a good deal of time fighting off the flu and pneumonia thanks to the constant wind and cold. But the money is good, and they can feed their families. They’re just happy to have work.

The state government is doing all that it can to support this natural gas boom. They create committees whose chairs are filled with industry executives. They dismantle the Department of Environmental Protection. They consider opening up state game lands and schoolyards to drilling interests. They even bar local doctors from warning patients that some illnesses may be caused by air and water pollution. And they do it all for the jobs. They are willing to sacrifice your neighbors’ health and safety for the sake of creating jobs.

After a while, your welder friends are back home looking for work. They finished the pipeline next door, and they’re out of work. When you ask why they aren’t working in the fields down the road, they explain that gas prices dropped because of over-production. The well sites run on skeleton crews now, so that the companies can maximize profits. In other words, they’re not hiring.

Articles appear in your paper, reporting an increase in homes for sale. A handful of families are complaining about contaminated water and gas flares so bright that they can’t sleep. Photos show a small group of friends protest in front of a local organic farm, preventing gas workers from drilling on the property. And one day a headline reads “Doctors Fight Gag Orders”. The state government never explained to residents that it would be illegal for doctors to even suggest to patients that air and water contaminated by the hydraulic fracturing process could be to blame for their mysterious illnesses.

Your family hunting grounds are decimated. Vacant lots line your damaged back roads. Your streams are dry. And now family doctors must lie to their patients – government’s orders.

Welcome to Frackland.

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