Those who care deeply for the welfare of the earth have been watching with alarm at the growth of hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”) throughout the US.
Fracking (yes, fracking) is a means of extracting natural gas that involves drilling deep into the earth, through the aquifer into hard shale deposits. During the process, a pressurized mixture of water and chemicals is injected into the rock, causing a kind of mini-earthquake. Natural gas is then released through the cracks, eventually making its way to the surface, where it is piped to compressor stations.
During the compression process, toxic chemicals are burned off into the air while the used chemical fluid is either sent away or stored in on-site pits where it evaporates. The rest of the chemical fluid, however, remains deep underground.
As you might guess, communities where fracking takes place have reported increasing incidents of water contamination, environmental degradation and serious health problems. State and federal agencies have received thousands of complaints from people all over the country whose lives, homes and communities have been literally poisoned by fracking operations.
Drilling operations near their property commenced in August 2008. Trees were cleared and the ground leveled to make room for a four-acre drilling site less than 1,000 feet away from their land. The Sautners could feel the earth beneath their home shake whenever the well was fracked.
Within a month, their water had turned brown. It was so corrosive that it scarred dishes in their dishwasher and stained their laundry. They complained to Cabot, which eventually installed a water-filtration system in the basement of their home. It seemed to solve the problem, but when the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection came to do further tests, it found that the Sautners’ water still contained high levels of methane. More ad hoc pumps and filtration systems were installed. While the Sautners did not drink the water at this point, they continued to use it for other purposes for a full year.
“It was so bad sometimes that my daughter would be in the shower in the morning, and she’d have to get out of the shower and lay on the floor” because of the dizzying effect the chemicals in the water had on her, recalls Craig Sautner, who has worked as a cable splicer for Frontier Communications his whole life. She didn’t speak up about it for a while, because she wondered whether she was imagining the problem. But she wasn’t the only one in the family suffering. “My son had sores up and down his legs from the water,” Craig says. Craig and Julie also experienced frequent headaches and dizziness.
By October 2009, the D.E.P. had taken all the water wells in the Sautners’ neighborhood offline. It acknowledged that a major contamination of the aquifer had occurred. In addition to methane, dangerously high levels of iron and aluminum were found in the Sautners’ water.
If you’re dismayed to learn about this dubious process (which was developed by Halliburton) you’ll be even more alarmed to learn that fracking is fast proliferating across the country, thanks to the federal deregulation of energy laws. In filming his documentary “Gasland,” (which was just nominated for an Academy Award this week), filmmaker Josh Fox traveled to 32 states to meet rural residents whose communities where decimated by fracking. His film documents toxic streams, destroyed aquifers, dying livestock, devastating illnesses, and kitchen faucets that shoot flame.
And if you live in the state of Illinois, you’ll be even more alarmed to learn the following:
A Louisiana energy company has sent a team of workers to Edwards County, Ill., to lease hundreds of acres of farmland for a natural gas exploration project. The company is targeting a gas-bearing shale formation known as the New Albany Shale Group that lies about 5,000 feet beneath the surface.
What else is there to say except it’s time to fight fracking – or at the very least unregulated fracking – in IL? To this end, I’m extremely happy to see that my friend and colleague Reverend Clare Butterfield, Executive Director of Faith in Place is currently seeking co-sponsors to introduce the necessary legislation in Springfield. We’re hoping our state will join New York, who recently became the first state to ban hydraulic fracturing as well as Wyoming who last June passed a law requiring the disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking fluid. (As the Vanity Fair article points out, drilling companies refuse to fully reveal what fracking fluid is made of, claiming such information is “proprietary.”)
Faith in Place will be devoting its annual Environmental Lobbying Day in Springfield to this issue on March 30. If you belong to a congregation in Illinois, please join us.
I’ll posting updates on this issue regularly. Stay tuned.