By Jiten Yumnam
A different form of industrialization and neo colonization process fast unfolds in America’s rural, far and interior terrains, this time again, also by the rich and powerful in a process many Americans increasingly despised with. Today, many tranquil American rural communities find themselves amidst noisy, dirty and polluting industrial zones. Friends from Canada and United States for long shared how extensive gas shale fracking uncared of peoples’ lives and environment ran havoc in rural communities. The zeal to comprehend the reality first hand persists for long till a chance encounter with Ms. Dina, a cancer survivor from Pittsburg city in Pennsylvania State. Strong in heart, spirits and deeds, she’s instrumental in addressing adverse implications of fracking industries and in enforcing ban on fracking in Pittsburg city areas after extensive advocacies and campaigns.
In visits across some fracking sites across Pennsylvania in an early June summer of 2014, Ms. Dina elucidates how Pittsburg residents resist the corporate bodies engaging in hydraulic fracking for oil and gas in communities’ backyards. ‘Fracking’, as it is known, is a controversial method to extract natural gas and other fossil fuels, by boring deep vertically and horizontally for gas trapped in rocks and shale. It is accomplished by injecting millions of gallons of high-pressure water and chemicals directly into layers of shale to create fractures to release and secure the gas. Often, such process contaminates the aquifers and leakages of natural gas and oil in natural surface waters, springs, rivulets, wells etc. More than 5000 Marcellus gas shale wells exists in Pennsylvania state by 2014 count and places like Butler County have wells less than one mile of each other. Several gas companies are planning to increase to 100,000 wells in coming decades.
In visits to communities harmed by gas fracking in Dina’s words in Connoquenessing town, Butler County, Pennsylvania, the adverse impacts of fracking is fully evident. The town areas are dotted with oil wells amidst farmland and energy companies busy setting up their machines for fracking next to residential areas. Often, energy companies failed to inform communities how fracking will harm them. Oil business has ruined farming, cattle rearing and devalued properties, causing enormous stress among rural communities. The enormous quantum of waste water generated throughout the fracking process is what that usually contaminates the water and soil throughout fracking sites. In Daisytown, Washington County, oil spilled over to farmland areas from oil wells run by Dominion Company and killed several livestock. The Monongahela and Cheat Rivers along foothills of Allegheny Mountains in the Springfill Township, Fayette County are contaminated with oil and chemical leaks from operations of Marcellus oil fields. Many families in Woodlands town are forced to buy waters after fracking operations contaminated their waters from leakages of chemicals and oil. Failures of oil wells after fracking and continued emission of hazardous carcinogenic chemicals from oil wells abounds in Pennsylvania State.
Visits to some of the cryogenic plants, where separation of crude gas and oil into multiple products reveals evidence of continuous release of hazardous and toxic gases. Many of such gases are invisible to naked eyes, except with flare cameras which reveal fumes continuously emanating from such plants and related oil wells. However, the impacts of such emissions are clearly evident in the deterioration of heath of many of the communities living close to such plants. In one of the cryogenic plants near Evans city, Pennsylvania, families were living next to the huge industrial complex, which also has a gas flaring units, which burns continuously, flaring at times up to 100 feet above the air, especially in night time. Ms. Susan of Evans City complained her heath deteriorates ever since the opening of the cryogenic plant next to her home recently and described the gas flaring in the plant as “Towering Flame of Death”. The air around her home smacks smell of natural gas and chemicals. One realise breathing fresh air has already become a matter of privilege. It’s hard to comprehend that fact that people are being deprived of their basic right to breathe oxygen. The pipeline metering stations with high pressure pop offs valves also involves releases of high quantum of raw natural gases to the atmosphere. The continuous noise of the compressor several times the noise of a full running locomotive freight train engine would certainly cause nuisance to any people living near it. Families living in Hopewell Township, Washington County has to endure noise of burning gas flaring throughout the night and to expose to 15 million gallon frack waste pond, condensate storage tanks, combustible flares etc.
Many families find their children’s nose bleeding due to neurotoxins and carcinogens released from gas processing facilities units nearby. In Bradford County, after Chesapeake Energy commenced fracking from 2010, many families have already lost their lives after developed cancer due to high exposure to cancerous elements. Medical examinations confirmed high concentration of arsenic, radium, uranium among harmed communities. A researcher of University of Texas, Rachael Rawlins, concludes there is 95 percent likelihood of increased rates of leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in children in Flower Mound, a town with several gas shale fracking sites between the years 1997 and 2009. A jury in Texas State awarded $3 million dollars to Bob and Lisa Parr, in their fracking lawsuit in April 2014 for poisonings by Aruba Petroleum on them and thus confirming the chemical contamination and violations caused by fracking.
Many of the gas fracking sites are actually located near schools as there are concerns on the safety of school children in gas explosions. Extensive clearing of forest is noted for gas pipelines to transport the oil across the state. Dina explained how the State invoked “Eminent Domain” concept to acquire ‘forest’ and other land required in developing infrastructure for fracking.
Many Americans are becoming refugees in their own land. Many rural Americans are forced to abandon their homes, due to undervalued property values, contamination of their water sources, worsening health impacts, loss of their cattle etc. In Connoquenessing town in Butler County, many families conscious of the potential impacts of ongoing fracking processes, put up their houses on sale. Ms. June Chapel of Hopewell Township expressed that the property value of her home decreased after Range Resources set up oil wells near her home since 2008. Dina explained how insurance companies refused to cover houses damaged due to their close proximity to industrial sites.
Oil wells and fracking sites competes with granary storage facilities across Pennsylvania State, a State that competes with California for agricultural production, due to the abundant availability of natural waters. Fracking is such a water intensive process that leads to contamination of aquifers underneath. Pennsylvania is rich in water, forest and beautiful landscapes and many people prefer to retire here, but the fracking industries already destroyed and polluted one place after another just for corporate greed and profits. The impacts of fracking also extend to California, Texas etc.
Companies are increasing California’s earthquake risk by injecting billions of gallons of oil and gas wastewater a year into hundreds of disposal wells near active faults around Los Angeles, Bakersfield and other major cities, according to a report from Earthworks, the Center for Biological Diversity and Clean Water Action. A boom in hydraulic fracturing in California would worsen the danger of earthquakes by greatly increasing oil wastewater production and underground injection. Studies warned extracting the Monterey Shale’s oil could produce almost 9 trillion gallons of contaminated wastewater. In Wyoming, several water wells used by communities are contaminated with Benzene and led to dying of several animals. In many states, the fracking companies also involve setting up of their own private security units which lead to threatening of communities harmed by fracking. Oil and Gas companies also intruded in peoples’ homes for fracking without their consent. Massive movement of heavy trucks carrying gas, sand, water, coal etc caused further inconveniences.
The oil and gas fracking industries is also wrought with violation of workers’ rights and many of its workers are either injured or killed in explosions, electrocutions, chemical spills and traffic accidents. Many workers trucking chemical laden waste water hold back from the oil wells after fracking developed varied adverse health symptoms and disabilities as in the case of Mr. Randy Monger of Portage Township, Cambria County, Pennsylvania. The industries’ blatant disregard for safety and workers rights is becoming more serious as it race against peoples’ critical opinions.
Fracking also involves high emission of methane gas, a green house gas, trapped inside the earth in fossil fuels through leaks from aquifers. Methane with its high potency to retain heat from the sun, will contribute enormously in global climate crisis. Mr. Louis W. Allstadt, former executive Vice President of Mobil Oil while acknowledging methane gas leaking from fracking sites opined one simply doesn’t how much is being leaked and unfortunately, there’s no monitoring and regulation.
The search for shale gas is spreading all across United States, raising the question of whether the State is adequately protecting its citizens and its resources. The State’s present regulations, laws and enforcement policies are far too weak. Not only are the resources for dealing with the health and environmental impacts of gas production insufficient to meet the scale of the boom, but state regulators consistently downplay the risks, take sides with industry against landowners. In all the fracking operations, there’s a tacit lack of cumulative impact assessments for not just specific communities but for entire Pennsylvania State. The cumulative impact assessments are crucial given the fact that the fluids used in fracking contained at least 650 cancer causing chemicals.
The fracking lobby is very strong and influential, with the entire politicians, intellectuals and media favouring and aggressively pursuing it with a pinch of misinformation campaign. The American media and visual channels are flush with advertisement on how clean and safe is natural gas derived from fracking. “Safe Fracking”, “Jobs and Money” is the catchword in the corporate media campaign. Harmed communities expressed concerns that the Pennsylvania Department of Environment and Protection (DEP), usually favoured the energy companies and often denied contamination of air and water by toxic elements by fracking. David Headley of Springfill Township of Fayette County complained of inaction of DEP for communities harmed by gas shale fracking by Marcellus Company. Even intellectuals are not spared. Dr. Charles Groat, Professor at Energy Institute, University of Texas, Austin provoked wide controversy with his research concluding no links between fracking and water contamination. The professor, who later was identified to be a board member of an energy company, had to resign in the aftermath of widespread condemnations.
In the pursuit for profit, the poor, the rich does not matter, the corporate bodies along with their cohorts and patronage will clamour and exploit land wherever it is. The height of capitalism and its ramifications fast consolidates in American backyards and its hinterlands. Dina shared there’s no longer differences among the people of those living in poor or rich countries. For profits and to serve insatiable greed, corporate bodies are ever willing to dig into peoples’ land, farmland, forest, water sources and wherever there are fossil fuels and the entire State seem to exist to serve corporate interest. There’s even deregulation of policies which exempts energy companies from paying tax.
Even as the impacts of fracking is fast unfolding and communities across US are grappling with the new unfolding reality and often uncertain on how best respond to emerging challenges, the country’s President already endeavoured hard globally to adopt fracking as an alternative energy solution. In places like Manipur, where oil and gas is confirmed to be in rich deposits and where decision making on management of such resources are exclusive and pursued aggressively with militarism of the state, the communities have lot more challenges. The social, environmental, health and other human rights impacts of oil and gas explorations as evidenced in Pennsylvania State should be an eye opener for all people of Manipur to seriously ponder over the oil and gas exploration moves in Manipur, especially on the impacts and accountability of corporate bodies.
The Fracking process continues to be a subject of wide controversy across United States as communities across several states are more sensitive to impacts of Fracking. Many communities harmed by fracking maintained varying positions in responding to fracking exercise. In area such as Daisytown, Washington County, harmed people called for a complete ban on fracking. Residents of Springhill Township of Fayette Council called for more accountability of the energy companies involved in fracking and devastations of peoples’ lives. Some harmed villagers such as Mr. John Slesinger in Cambria County filed lawsuit against gas driller, T& F Explorations for violating their basic rights and denial of information on drilling operations. While others called for full respect and adherence to their constitutional rights, such as right to fresh and clean air. Residents of Denton Town in Texas gathered enough signatures to petition the city mayor to undertake voting to ban fracking in their town and vicinity areas. The State of Vermont enforced ban on Fracking, while the politically charged New York State enforced a moratorium on Fracking until the impacts are thoroughly assessed and comprehend with. Dina opined that the decisions of the two States are based on the concerns raised on impacts in Pennsylvania. Elsewhere, in Europe, France and Bulgaria, countries with the largest shale-gas reserves in Europe, have already banned fracking. Protesters are blocking potential drilling sites in Poland and England. It is high time voices of harmed communities on their adverse experiences of oil spills, contaminations, violations of their basic rights, lack of accountability of energy companies are considered seriously for necessary changes.
For long the United States is notorious for allowing its multinational corporate bodies to intrude and expropriate communities land, water and forest in third world countries. Today, communities across rural United States are becoming an extension of third world countries, where corporate bodies are expanding their operations for greed and destroying prime agriculture land, forest, water and other tranquil locations. There’s sharp division between those involved in fracking and those impacted.
The world has seen much advances and advent of more efficient technologies on energy solutions. However, political commitments to adopt and apply such energy solutions to meet peoples’ needs and to minimize all forms of impacts are deliberately lacking. The corporate interest for fossil fuels still dominates political decisions. The question of who defines development, for whom and who benefits continues to be pertinent. It is high time for the communities of Manipur to take precaution of the adverse realities of what has been pursued as development and as clean sources of energy, as in Pennsylvania State. A development paradigm that best serves the needs of communities and that can minimize all forms of negative impacts on environment and people need be pursued strongly.
A dangerous form of consolidation of wealth among America’s wealthy while spreading disease, poverty and misery among the other less fortunate is fast consolidating. An intensification of privatisation process rules the roost, as energy companies continue to frack and ruined peoples’ lives. The privatisation of peoples land, resources and their lives further intensifies in the rural areas of United States amidst corporate bodies’ pursuit for endless profits. One needs to question the practicability of the principles and practices of democracy in the United States, where peoples voices are muffled, where corporate interest are far favoured than citizens rights, where democratic decision making and peoples’ concerns are subdued with misinformation and insensitivity of adverse reality and harming of communities. Manipur unfortunately, has the additionally challenge of ongoing armed conflict over self determination struggles, the ambience of endless suspicions, gauging development processes to fit into the ambits of India’s national security and interest and further to advance corporate interest while negating and subduing communities’ intrinsic rights. Are the Americans and for that matters, across the terrains in third world terrains ever be awakened by this new reality fast unfolding in American backyards? Fracking peoples’ lives and future can never be the solution to a just and sustainable development wherever it happens.