Friday, November 19, 2010

The People's Summit

Today, I attended the first half of the EarthWorks National People's Oil and Gas Summit, held in Pittsburgh (whose City Council, earlier this week, unanimously passed an ordinance banning gas drilling within the city limits). Attendees came from as far as Wyoming and New Brunswick to discuss hydrofracturing ("fracking") in the various shale formations that underlie the North American continent; some of those who spoke are featured in Josh Fox's film Gasland (which, we learned today, has been short-listed for an Academy Award nomination). One of those speakers, Wyoming rancher John Fenton, summed up the attitude of those assembled when he said: "Drilling might be the industry's pot of gold, but to me it's a pot of poison." Stories were rife of people sickened and forced from their homes (or unable to sell them), of communities divided and disenfranchised, of itinerant workers bringing crime and drugs to town, of callous industries threatening and equally callous governments ignoring the communities they claim to serve. One speaker discussed how the profits from drilling are privatized while the costs (economic, environmental, and social) are "externalized" and foisted on the public; another described industry-funded studies based on flawed data, outmoded models, and insupportable comparisons; yet another documented the links between fracking chemicals (those we know of; many remain shrouded in secrecy) and health risks ranging from neurological impairments to cancers. A number of shocking facts emerged, including the following:
  • In two communities in Wyoming and Texas where fracking is taking place, between 70 and 80% of residents are experiencing respiratory problems.
  • While drilling is often touted as a job-maker for local communities, fully 70% of the industry's workers in Pennsylvania come from out of state.
  • The natural gas methane--which is not only deadly to humans but a potent greenhouse gas--has been recorded at asphyxiation levels in some homes near fracking sites.
  • High rates of sexual predation--including predation on children--are reported among fracking workers.
  • Though Pennsylvania's State Senate insists that a severance tax will drive industry away, Wyoming, with the highest taxes among western states, also has the highest energy production in the U.S. (indeed, it ranks close to the top compared to other energy-producing nations).

On the positive side, some legal battles have been won against the drilling companies, ordinances such as Pittsburgh's are being contemplated by other municipalities, and as evidenced by today's summit, the movement against fracking is growing larger every day.

The chief message I took from today's meeting was the need to learn as much as possible about this issue, and to act on that knowledge in every way imaginable.

I'll be going back tomorrow to continue that process.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this - hoping for more.
    We need your voice.
    Time to "Get Busy"