Commentary

Every Pa. community deserves protection from the harms of fracking | Opinion

March 26, 2021 6:30 am

A Marcellus shale natural gas well in Jackson Twp., Butler County, Pa. Photo by WCN 24/7 for Flickr Commons

By Sarah Martik

All communities, whether rural or densely populated, deserve protection from harm. Public and private water supplies are critically important to the individuals, families, and communities who rely on them.

For far too long, extractive industries have paved the way for our elected officials to turn the Ohio River into a dumping ground. Five million people rely on the river for their drinking water, yet it remains one of the most polluted in the country, despite decades-long cleanup efforts. Communities throughout the region have had enough: local residents are coming together to create a world that puts people’s health and well-being over fossil-fueled corporate profits.

For residents of the Ohio River Valley, news of the Delaware River Basin Commission’s decision to permanently ban hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River Basin was met with conflicting emotions. While the victory is tremendous because it is (finally) an admission of the harms of fracking, and the precedent established is critically important, it just isn’t enough.

Until every community in every region is shielded from the health and economic damage and destruction the petrochemical industry wields, our work is not finished.

After more than a decade of research, we’ve learned unequivocally that it’s impossible to make hydraulic fracturing safe; the process is inherently dangerous and laden with risk.

SWPA pipeline that provides nat.gas to Shell cracker plant is under investigation for possible corrosion

We cannot prevent the fine particulate pollution and release of radioactive materials into our environment any more than we can control for a potential methane leak or prevent an earthquake from forming under the ground on which we stand. Fracking puts our communities and the people we love at constant risk, and it weighs heavily on all of our shoulders.

The toll of the petrochemical industry’s destructive tactics is devastating. Oil and gas companies roll into our communities, destroy our land, pollute our air, and accelerate the global climate crisis – then leave when profits are low and liabilities high.

A growing body of research has linked fracking to negative impacts on pregnancy and infant development, asthma, skin rashes, heart problems, and potentially cancer. Many of us in southwestern Pennsylvania have been paralyzed with fear as rare childhood cancers have spiked in four of our heavily-fracked counties.

The People Over Petro Coalition believes that people—our health, welfare, and interests—must be respected and protected over petrochemicals and the life-cycle impacts of its upstream and downstream industries, including plastics. Together, we are working to reverse the expansion of the petrochemical industry in the Appalachian Basin and encourage a clean, renewable, and regenerative economic foundation.

And let’s be clear: fracking isn’t just bad for public health. What was advertised as an economic boom for the region has gone bust.

Report: Pa.’s fossil fuel industry got $3.7B in tax breaks in 2019

The natural gas industry has failed for more than a decade to deliver the prosperity our communities were promised. We were sold a bill of goods the industry couldn’t deliver on, and many of us have felt the blow of those crushed dreams and broken promises.

According to a recent report released by the Ohio River Valley Institute, the 22 counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia that produce more than 90 percent of our region’s natural gas failed to deliver the promised growth in jobs, income, and population. In fact, local measures of economic prosperity in the region – job growth, personal income growth, and population growth – actually declined.

We know a better world is possible. Our communities deserve good union jobs and family-sustaining wages. We deserve a productive, sustainable, and healthy future. And we all deserve protection from the pestilent natural gas industry.

The People Over Petro Coalition calls upon the governors of the Ohio River Valley—including Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana—to immediately shift our public investments away  from fossil fuel extraction and into industries that will provide family-sustaining jobs that don’t put us and the land we love at risk.

Together, we will combat environmental injustice at every turn to build a world where people—our health, welfare, safety, and environment—are respected and protected more than corporate profits.

Sarah Martik is a steering committee member of the People Over Petro Coalition and Campaign Director at Center for Coalfield Justice. She writes from Pittsburgh.

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