“Mom, there’s a man at the door who says he can make you rich. Can I answer it?”
I almost felt sorry for the guy. Almost.
Rushing the opening segment of his spiel, he announced, “I’m from Chesapeake Energy, and I’d like to include you in a special offer to –”
” — to have my community ruined in exchange for a minuscule amount of money? No thanks, dude.”
“Wait. What are your concerns?”
“Basically the same as those of Congress and the EPA: contamination of water, the earthquakes, the site spillage, plus all the loud noise…want me to go on? Last week when I said I was worried about unsafe chemicals in my drinking water, you told us we ‘receive [our] water from Dallas anyway’ — which we don’t according to my water department — as if that’s supposed to make it all okay.”
The kid issued a robotic answer to every one of my concerns: “Frac drilling hasn’t been proven unsafe and has been going on for decades;” “There’ve been no earthquakes in this area proven to be a direct result of hydraulic fracturing for resources;” “You can receive a signing bonus!” Blah, blah, blah.
It’s the same dog and pony show each time one of these folks comes around. On the days when I have time to dig deeper, so to speak, the door knocker’s speech always unravels into: “I’ll have someone from the company contact you with further information,” but I always seem to just get another snake oil salesman instead of anyone who can show me tangible proof that frac’ing is going to paint a giant rainbow over my north Texan community.
Let me backup a few years, though, when all the aggressive frac-a-lacking began.
As the derricks started popping up en masse all over DFW Airport’s Barnett Shale property in 2007, I wasn’t sure what was going on. My co-workers and I observed the gigantic structures during each phase of erection. I remember someone saying, “Wow, that’s one way to ruin the sunset, isn’t it!” Others were asking if it was a permanent inconvenience, if it was safe having such huge assemblies “right next to the runways,” if there was any risk working around “whatever-they-are,” if the intolerably bad odors we were noticing came from the drilling, if the water weirdly bubbling from cracks in the concrete was toxic production, etc. My main complaint at that time centered around the unique noise, which resembled what I thought a dying T-Rex might make. Whatever the case and for whatever the reasoning, nobody liked anything about those beasts, except for the 181 million bucks and 25% profit sharing the airport received from the energy company.
As if the odors and the loud noise and the eyesores weren’t enough, shortly after the drilling mania initiated around the airport, an unprecedented series of earthquakes occurred. The companies like to maintain this is completely without basis and unproven. I’m not a geologist, so, luckily, the USGS is full of unbiased, left-brainers who like to generate exciting earthquake data for the rest of us. Goody!
Earthquakes within 62 miles of DFW Airport in the one hundred years BEFORE the drilling: ONE.
Earthquakes within 62 miles of DFW Airport in the three years since drilling began: TWENTY-FOUR.
So why are we allowing this to happen? Because everybody who doesn’t own an energy corporation is hurting in this recession, and when one of their energy ants, as I like to refer to these door-to-door nimrods who make irritating trails that are difficult to eradicate, comes along with a special signing bonus worth a few thousand dollars per acre, it seems like a good way to get caught up on the bills. At least, that’s what Dawn Nolan thought when the ants came-a-calling in her neighborhood several years ago.
“They said they wanted to drill for natural gas and that they’d be willing to pay me thousands of dollars and a percentage of the earnings. I got a check at first, so I let them go ahead. Who can’t use the extra money?”
During the process, the drill began producing incredibly loud noises right outside her daughter’s bedroom window. “There was all kinds of equipment and stuff they were using that was blocking the driveway at times and making a mess — mud everywhere. The one down the street made a really bad smell, too.”
I asked Dawn how far away the closest drill was from her home. “Oh, gosh. 100 feet? No more than 150 feet for sure. I didn’t know they could drill so close to a home until it happened.”
After everything was said and done, the Nolans’ check finally arrived in the mail for their percentage of the wells’ profits. It took months after drilling ended to get the company to send a grand total of $73.00. To top it off, she reports similar safety issues echoed by many families who’ve also experienced drilling within close proximity to a water supply. “We drink well water here, and in the past year or so, we’ve never had so many health problems — lots of headaches and stuff like that. I don’t know what’s going on.” Dawn has missed work due to doctor’s visits for herself and her children, and the loss of hours has taken a toll. “I’d like to figure it out,” she says.
Dawn is certainly not the only one with complaints. In Flower Mound residents have pressed for additional studies to detect why levels of childhood leukemia seem to be increasing in the zip codes within closest proximity to frac drilling. Benzene and other contaminants proven to be cancer-causing have been prevalent in areas where unconventional shale drilling has occurred. In addition, studies have demonstrated that frac drilling is taking effect on food production in areas where spills, which are common, are unable to be maintained properly. In one article, a farmer admits he is concerned about selling produce which has been contaminated by frac water. In other reports, livestock have inadvertently been killed and contaminated after drinking fluids used by companies like Chesapeake for hydraulic fracturing. Making things worse, Weston Wilson, formerly an environmental engineer with the EPA who is now working to resolve hydrofracking issues under Congressional protective whistleblower status, has issued the following statement regarding findings of airborne benzene:
“If that is an effect of oil and gas drilling, of fracking, it’s systemic, it’s endemic. It’s evaporating from the reserve pits and the condensate tanks. It’s not as if the current state of the art protects the public health from those volatile organics.”
The way I see it, these are possible side effects that involve not just the immediate communities, but also any creature who eats food, drinks water, or breathes air.
Things have gotten so terrible that Congress has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to open a complete investigation into the safety concerns of hydraulic fracturing. This involves requesting full disclosure of the mystery chemicals used in frac’ing around for natural gas from the nine largest energy drilling companies. You might be asking yourself, Does this mean that the only people who know what is being pumped into the ground along with trillions of gallons of water and sand in order to break the shale and expose the gas to the surface are the ones who own the companies profiting from drilling? Yeah, I know it sounds like crazytown, but yes. And guess what? They don’t have to clean your water after they contaminate it; they’re exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act thanks to Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force of 2005 (and to Barack Obama’s “yes” vote). Let’s be non-partisan about it, though. We’ve fudged this one up as a team effort.
Natural gas is not the enemy here, of course. However, we’ve got to fight for regulations of the chemicals used in current frac drilling processes so that we can achieve a level of environmental safety that meets our need for more efficient fossil fuels. BJ Services’ David Dunlap, Chief Operating Officer, says his company incorporates “green” fluid alternatives in offshore frac drilling due to specific guidelines set forth by the EPA, so there is a way to lessen the risk, but he adds, “…the chemistry costs more and is justifiable to shareholders only because the regulations for offshore drilling left no choice.” That’s a nice way of saying the energy companies choose to frac drill on land using chemicals that are not proven to be safe because they’re cheaper. There’s loads of money to be made in drilling practices by Montgomery Burns’ Greedy Gashole Army, so why not cut as many corners as possible, right? Sad face. Come on, guys.
Last week my daughter and I sat in on a Fort Worth City Council meeting in which a swarmy Chesapeake Energy rep addressed the council regarding the improved safety and whatnot of drilling practices. In the same breath, he bragged about how the company was planning upon planting trees and other landscaping improvements along the site (so we can pollute those with frac water, too, I guess). When he concluded his rehearsed presentation, Mr. Safety took a seat next to me and breathlessly said, “Hello.” I responded by looking at my kid and saying, “See this guy? He works for the people who put those giant dino-rigs all over the place — the ones that drill with all the chemicals they wanna keep confidential.” She responded by writing on the meeting’s agenda, “The ones we could hear across the highway?” I nodded, “Yeah. THOSE.” She leaned over, gave him the once over, and whispered, “He looks greasy, Mom.”
“That’s because he is covered in snake oil,” I told her.
So until further notice, if you’re knocking on my door with your pen and your signing bonus, Chesapeake, et al, I’m totally disinterested. Quit interrupting my life by pounding on my door every five seconds. Quit calling my husband all the time on his work phone. Quit asking my kid through the door if her “Mommy and Daddy are home.” My god, you’re more invasive than all of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Kirby Vacuum salespeople, and Anti-drug Candy Bar peddlers I’ve encountered in my entire life — combined! I don’t care if every single one of my neighbors makes fifty bazillion dollars from your frac-a-whacking; I’d rather sleep soundly at night knowing my conscience is free from greed and that I took a stand for what is right rather than what “leads us into temptation.”
I invite you all to do the same until drilling and energy companies are forced into utilizing similar, more ecologically friendly hydraulic fracturing fluids in our American land as are enforced by the EPA in offshore practices.