Society of Environmental Journalists
June 22, 2014
Carnegie Mellon University
Remarks for opening panel
J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD
Paradise Gardens and Farm
I come to you an organic farmer, my face still red from some difficult hay-making this past week, and a PhD in Sociology from a former career. The PhD accounts for the scientific perspective from which I have researched this fracking issue, reading the industry’s case for it, reading the extensive case against it.
I started in 2009 with an open mind as to the possibility that this drilling could be done responsibly and might even do some good. I have now reached the firm conclusion, based on reams of scientific studies and the good reporting people in this room have done, that it cannot be done responsibly given major gaps in knowledge about current impacts and long-term risks of irreparable harm to groundwater sources.
The facts that support a stop to this kind of drilling, the hundreds of medical studies piling up, the documented cases of water and air pollution everywhere this industry exists, are being effectively suppressed by the PR juggernaut of the powerful gas industry, backed up by political operatives in my state like my Senator Joseph Scarnati who do the industry’s bidding.
Beyond the political chicanery in which this issue is embedded, I’ve been studying “anthropogenic climate disruption” and come to understand how precious little time we have to change our ways of energy production and consumption. ExxonMobil rosily predicts we will have a gusher of fracked oil and gas to power our lives through year 2040. Only problem is, that will yield a 4 degree Centigrade increase in our planet’s temperature, and then all bets are off as to who or what survives among species living now, including us.
To echo a famous pro-gas campaign: “Think about it.” How crazy is it to be projecting 40 years of fossil fuel development when we only have two decades, scientists tell us, to get off fossil fuels and onto renewable energy sources?
Think about it! There are 7,000+ drilled wells in PA alone, and those are just the beginning of a planned 150,000, because the gas industry is planning, across populated areas and forests, an industrial overlay of 5-acre well pads, compressor stations, midstream facilities, eight (8) or more wells drilled per square mile, thousands of new miles of gathering and trunk pipelines, hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic pollutants wafting through our air and settling on our farms and in our lungs, millions of gallons of waste (flowback from the toxic shale) generated that has to be disposed of somewhere (they are making that up as they go along), leaving behind in the shale more than a ton of chemicals per acre, many of those secret, proprietary chemicals that they are not required to disclose, leaving behind those 150,000 well bores, half of which will have their steel and concrete crack and deteriorate within 30 years according to their own studies, creating open passageways for methane gas and radon (the number two cause of lung cancer) and who knows what else from the shale to get into the cracks and crevices below us and find its way to where we live on the surface, to invade our groundwater aquifers before we realize it, causing thousands of people to drink, before they know what hit them, water that shortens their life, and the lives of their animals, and all of this happening across one-half the land mass of Pennsylvania, the big companies taking their profits and abandoning the scene as soon as the gas stops flowing (on most wells less than 5 years), leaving behind the worst of the problems to be cleaned up at the cost of the public treasury.
The gas industry likes to say that we who oppose fracking are emotional people, trying to scare people, ignoring science. Every part of that long sentence you just heard has credible science behind it. As filmmaker Josh Fox has said, “It is the science that frightens us.”
So, yes, I am here as a tiny organic farmer worried about his goats with fracking bearing down on my farm. That’s true; I am worried about my goats. But I’m worried about a lot more than that in speaking with you today.
There is a major human rights story unfolding before us, an environmental justice story about people who cannot flee the gas fields and must accept the consequences, about pristine forests being ruined, about a gas industry that has the audacity to place an industrial grid across half the populated landmass of PA.
The boosters of fracked gas rush ahead with no scientific consensus, no proof that what they are putting down the well bores will not come back up from a mile down. They trust their models, but really they are just tossing the dice.
Talk about health impacts! You know what makes me sick right now? Stories like the one we read this past week where two retired PA Department of Health workers revealed that they were ordered to suppress complaints of health problems, given cheat sheet of buzzwords – “like fracking, gas, soil contamination” – and instructed by higher-ups not to talk with people who used those words. It makes me sick that we have no official health registry in this state to track health problems where fracking is happening. My Senator Joe Scarnati and others killed it, said $2 Million was too expensive, said not to worry, that the Department of Health would be collecting those data. Now we learn that PA DOH is deep-sixing that data. That excellent State Impact article also stated: “The Department of Health confirmed that all complaints related to natural gas drilling are sent to the Bureau of Epidemiology where they are logged in a database.” Someone out there among you listening to me now needs to figure out how to get that database into the public record before it is destroyed.
This is a human rights issue. Future generations born into a world that is not sustainable because of climate change, isn’t that the greatest of health impact imaginable?
This is not just about drilling coming to my farm, not a NIMBY story. The entire world is our common back yard. One of tomorrow’s sessions is entitled The ABCs of Hydraulic Fracturing. I’ll tell you what those are: Fracking is an Aggressive Belligerent Cachexia (a wasting disease) afflicting the body politic. Whether it is community rights, our rights of clean water and clean air, our politics corrupted by fracking money, or our right to pass on a sustainable planet to future generations – with fracking we are seeing the same result we see when cancer acts to destroy the human body.
American poet Wallace Stevens once wrote, “After the final ‘no’ there comes a ‘yes’/And on that ‘yes’ the future world depends.” The fossil fuel industry plans 40 more years of “No” to the life, health and well-being of future generations by saying “No” to making the change to renewables.
I want to be part of the generation that says “Yes” to life for innumerable generations out.
A little over 40 years ago the people of Pennsylvania said a resounding “Yes” in 61 words of the Pennsylvania constitution: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”
Of late our Department of Environmental Protection, under the past two Administrations – Democrat and Republican – and more than likely the next one, too – have been saying a resounding “No” to those 61 words by “We the People.” It is a crying shame that DEP works in a building named after Rachel Carson. Were she alive today, she’d be on a ladder chiseling her name off of there.
Thank you for having me. God bless and Godspeed in your endeavors. And God knows you’ll need all the speed you can muster to get in front of this industry, to tell the truth, the whole truth so that it can be stopped before it’s too late.