Monday, January 24, 2011

it hits hard, when it hits home.

Once again, the pace of life has been very very fast. Since my last post- I've moved to WV, did a show in KY (by myself!), spent time in ohio (never enough), and learned a lot about fracking. So first things first... fracking. (what the frack!?)

I recently went to Pittsburgh to learn about Hydrological Fracturing, with some other bees. I'd seen gasland, I spent some time reading about it online, and speaking with a woman from an Neogap working on fracking issues in ohio-- and I knew it wasn't good. To spite feeling fairly uninformed- I felt it was really bad.

(Gas drills in Hickory, PA)

After spending a few days around PA, speaking to different organizations and individuals that are connected to fracking- my fears have been fully confirmed (and then some). It's hard to give the full download of what's happening with fracking (and I'm sure I couldn't give it even if I wanted to), so instead I'll just encourage a few sites for the basic information...
Gasland: What's Fracking?
Sierra Club Natural Gas site (with side links to 'what is fracking')
Fracking 101 (wordy, not very user friendly- but a useful over view)
(This is an image of a drill site in Hickory, PA. A place that's been very hard hit by fracking.)

The process- in a very general sense- means drilling 3,000- 8,000 feet down and then out ('a mile down, a mile out') in order to push high pressure water/sand/checmical solution (frack fluid) down so that it fractures the shale formation and releases lots of gas. Above is a general diagram of the geology that is being drilled into... notice the ground water it goes through.

When we were in Pittsburgh, we had a chance to chat with a handful of people who helped us get a grasp of what was what. We talked to some amazing organizers with Marcellus Protest, who also have a very great website that is worth checking out. We met with the Shadbush Collective as well, who had a Fracking 101 workshop at the Pittsburgh free school we went to. We also met with Mountain Watershed Association, based in Melcroft. There we learned a lot about leases and permits- which was incredibly useful to me. We were shown a very useful website, called fractracker, which if you log into it the 'datatool' page, there are maps of all the wells in PA. We also learned there that only 1% of drilling jobs are going to folks from PA. So much for a job boom, huh?

The biggest overaching thing we heard about was water. The fracking process uses TONS of water. Literally. Each time a well is fracked, it uses anywhere between 1 and 8 million gallons of water- and each well can be fracked many times over. That's a lot of water! But it gets worse, because the water isn't just 'water' but instead it becomes frack fluid. Which means that there are all sorts of gnarly chemicals added to the water- like formaldehyde, naphthalene (moth balls- a neurotoxin), and ethylene glycole (antifreeze). Lots of the chemicals that are used (70%!!!) effect our skin, eyes, or other sensory organs.

Ok, so that doesn't sound good, but what's worse? Not only does that frack fluid likely make it into the aquifers (I mean, check out that diagram again...), but in PA it gets put into the drinking water... on purpose! Since oil and gas are exempt from the clean water and clean air acts (what!? it's true!), this frack fluid is being sent to municipal water treatment plants. But, 'treatment plant' suggests it gets treated. Nope, instead it just gets diluted. Above is a map of the treatment plants that accept it. And this is an interactive map that shows where this frack fluid is going in more detail.

Another way they get ride of Frack Fluid is by creating frack ponds. We met a woman names Jenn who has a frack pond 900 ft away from her home. Many of the chemicals that are used are VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which means they pretty easily get into the air. Over and over again, people (including Jenn) have reported getting nose bleeds, headaches and experiencing memory loss when their homes near fracking wells/ponds.

We met with Erik in his home to hear about whats going on in the area, and also meet with a powerhouse names Dorthy who gave us lots of context.
Erik was lovely enough to show us around Hickory--- we drove around pretty randomly. Pretty much every turn had a whole new sight line of gas drills.

We came up one road with, which ended at a farm which had all of these signs. That's a whole lot of leases and future wells. Yikes.

There are lots of smaller caps around. These are wells that (mostly) have been fracked- and perhaps will be fracked again but are currently pretty passively collecting gas. They look pretty similar to shallow well collectors, like the ones around my mamas house.

Flaring is another big issue that many folks talked about. Gas will be light for days at a time- creating huge flames that shoot out. This is not only bright and loud, but it's also releasing all sorts of things into the air.

We also had a lovely 'mixer' pot luck with lots of different folks in Pittsburgh who are working on Fracking. It was so nice to be able to connenct with folks there. I was able to connect more with Anne who is also from ohio and trying to get a handle on what's going on there, as well as other folks from shadbush.

So that's sort of what I learned. Mostly what I learned was that this shit is scary. I learned that with the current loophole in regulations for fracking, preventing leases from being signed may be the best 'first step' thing to do. Right now, there are well over 400 leases signed in ohio. I also had it ingrained a bit more that it takes all angles of resistance to be effective- landowner coalitions, community bans of fracking (like in Pittsburgh!) and challenging corporate personhood, legislative work- like the house bill- the FRAC Act (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness to Chemical Act), large scale media work or protests, water testing and legal battles over getting clean water to individuals effected by fracking... all of it. All of the time, from every angle and every place and every person. Which- makes me feel totally crazed and is shaking my view pretty hard about what role I do, or do not play in this movement.
I've been trying to reach out to anyone and everyone I know in Ohio who is working on this. They've put in a verticle test well in Belmont County that will drill down 14,000 feet, which suggests gas companies are looking into the Utica Shale. This significantly ups the ante- not only because it's deeper, in some good old NIMBYism fashion ('not in my back yard'), its scary as hell because it covers almost all of ohio- including Marion County, Morrow county, and Delaware county (sisters family, brothers family, mother and father- aka all of them).

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