By Seth Gladstone
After enduring the harsh realities of fracking for almost a decade, the people of Pennsylvania are fed up. They’re sick – literally – of the poisoned drinking water and air pollution. They’re tired of the incessant noise and the truck traffic. And they’re coming to terms with the boom-and-bust reality of rural industrialization, environmental degradation and eventual abandonment that fracking inevitably brings.
Now the people of Pennsylvania are pushing back against the horrors of extreme gas drilling by taking matters into their own hands and making their voices heard. Recently they delivered more than 100,000 petitions to Governor Corbett and the state legislature calling for a moratorium on fracking in the state. 20 large boxes, each filled to the brim with page after page of residents’ signatures, were hauled into the Statehouse. With that, the people had spoken.
“Pennsylvanians are disgusted with fracking,” said Food & Water Watch statewide organizer Sam Bernhardt. “They’re organizing street by street and town by town – at churches, at colleges and at coffee shops. Across the state, local officials have been feeling the heat from residents for years, and now our leaders in Harrisburg are feeling the heat as well.”
Many of the residents working so hard for a moratorium are motivated by the personal tragedies beset on their families by fracking. Sadly, these families are a large and growing constituency. The Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air maintains a List of the Harmed, citing more than 1,200 separate cases of Pennsylvania residents whose health or safety was harmed by fracking operations. Considering that the oil and gas industry has been cited for more than 4,300 environmental violations in recent years, it’s a wonder that the list isn’t larger.
One reason so many cases of human health impacts go unreported in Pennsylvania is the controversial Act 13, a state law passed last year that has done almost as much harm to the people of Pennsylvania as the gas drillers themselves. For many residents now engaged in the struggle to halt fracking, Act 13 was the final straw that pushed them into action.
Billed as a regulatory mechanism that would empower local communities subjected to fracking, Act 13 was actually a sinister Get Out of Jail Free Card for the industry. It prevents medical doctors from sharing with patients who are exposed to toxic fracking chemicals the facts and details about those chemicals and their health risks. Essentially, Pennsylvania doctors are prohibited from discussing with fracking victims the details of how and why they are ill. Shocking.
If there’s any good that’s come from the countless hardships Pennsylvania families have faced due to fracking, it’s the education and inspiration these circumstances have provided to activists in states like New York that are working feverishly to prevent such tragedies in their own communities. But this comes as little solace to the sick and tired in Pennsylvania for whom only a fracking moratorium in their own state will console. For them, 100,000 petitions delivered to the statehouse are only the beginning of their effort.