A resident of Dimock, PA pours water that came from his well after start of natural gas fracking. Credit: High Country News
I attended a very full screening of GASLAND last night at the Prince Music Theater. It was a mesmerizing, maddening and tragic expose of an environmental issue that I suspect is going to be one of the biggest environmental issues of our time: drilling for natural gas.
The story is not a new one in America's history, and the negligence (greed, secrecy, etc. etc.) of the natural gas industry and the government agencies that should be monitoring this industry in the name of public safety, can be added to a long list of ways that America is on a fast track to making our country completely unlivable.
The problem? Hydraulic fracturing or fracking--the method for extracting the enormous stores of natural gas currently embedded in geologic formations across this country--is extremely toxic. A lethal cocktail of chemicals (among them formaldehyde, pesticides and plastics) is mixed with hundreds of millions of gallons of water and forced underground to open up pockets of gas. What happens to this wastewater afterwards?* Who cares? The gas companies are making money, and that's the bottom line, right?
But what director Josh Fox uncovers is that this wastewater is contaminating the communities who reside near natural gas wells, and doing it an a alarming rate. Polluted, flammable tap water; sick pets and livestock; reports of chronic headaches; asthma, body pain and other illnesses in humans; the list is long and chilling.
And what kind of law could possibly exist in this great land of ours that makes it possible for the natural gas industry to get away with such atrocities? An Energy Policy Bill passed in 2005 by the Bush-Cheney administration. It provided tax incentives for energy production and exempted oil and gas producers from safety regulations specified in the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts. And so began an unregulated natural gas boom across the nation. Wild west style. It may be good for reducing our dependence on foreign oil (and the Axis of Evil), but it threatens to pollute our waterways, which--as Fox so poignantly illustrates in old footage of Woody Guthrie singing "This Land is Your Land"--are literally all connected.
Currently 34 states are impacted by the natural gas industry. One of the largest regions for drilling is right here in Pennsylvania and stretches across the Delaware River Basin, a watershed that provides water to over 15 million people across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, 2 million of which are customers of the Philadelphia Water Department.
Click here for a GASLAND screening near you.
For ways you can make your voice heard about this issue, read our upcoming blog, "Tell Your Politicians No Fracking Way".
*To learn more about what actually happens to fracking wastewater, check out this informative blog about the fracking process from a resident of Hickory, PA.
Thanks to Delaware Riverkeeper and a March 25 Resolution by Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown for other citations.