Shale Gas – Natural, but is it safe? Protesters claim “No Fracking Way!”

A swarm of frustrated Americans descended upon the District of Columbia on Saturday afternoon, to participate in the first national mobilization against hydraulic fracturing.  The process involves injecting incredible amounts of water and chemicals into the earth, which cracks, thus creating a pathway for trapped natural gas to escape.

Travelers of all ages hailed from Tennessee, Kentucky, the Virginias and Maryland.  Still more made the trek down from Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Each had in common residence in a state located above the Marcellus Shale, proposed to be the world’s 2nd largest natural gas cache.  They also shared a common goal – Stop Fracking Now.

For the past few years, the gas and oil industries have been ushering in natural gas extraction as a means of showing environmental initiative.  They’ve also been profiting on patriotism, claiming to be creating more secure jobs for Americans and decreasing our dependence on foreign oil.  Unfortunately, it seems to be another typical case of greenwashing.

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The Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a non-profit organization fighting global warming in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C., gathered to rally at the Spirit of Justice Park around 1p.m.  There CCAN’s Executive Director, Mike Tidwell, spoke to concerned citizens.  By 2 o’ clock, a crowd of hot and bothered “fracktivists” were rallied outside the nation’s Capitol.  A slew of notable speakers included environmental leader Bill McKibben, founder of grassroots climate campaign 350.org; Calvin Tillman, former Mayor of DISH, Texas;  Allison Chin, Board President of the Sierra Cluband GASLAND director, Josh Fox.  Other celebrities who endorsed the call to action were Dr. Cornel West, philosopher and eco-activist Vandana Shiva, actor Mark Ruffalo, American folk singer Pete Seeger, actress Margot Kidder, and head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, James Hansen.

All have joined efforts to put an immediate halt on the controversial process of natural gas extraction, due to increased risks to public and environmental health.  Mal effects consist of rising cancer rates, contaminated drinking water, air polluted with toxic and radioactive materials such as Mercury, Benzene, Radium, Uranium; and seismic activity in areas unfamiliar to earthquakes.

All afternoon, throngs of protesters marched through streets and parks from South to Northwest D.C.  Along the route, they paused to deliver jugs of contaminated water to the headquarters of the American Natural Gas Alliance and to show their disdain for the American Petroleum Institute.  Police escorts halted traffic to allow demonstrators to pass.

Among them, two sobbing women clung to each other for support.  One carried a sign which read “A LIFE LOSTIN THE RUSH TO DRILL.”  The letters stood bold above photos of a young man and his two small children.  The man was Charles Bevins III, the 23 year old brother of Charlotte Bevins.

Charles, a West Virginia native, was killed while working on a drill site in Smyrna, NY.  His employer, Braden Drilling, was contracted by Norse Energy of Oslo, Norway.   According to his sister, “The industry has a freeze over the winter months.  They hold off on drilling for a while, because the ground is too soft from all the rain and snow.  Charles went up to set up the site right after the freeze had been lifted.  They had tried to set it up before, so that when the freeze was lifted they could start, but it was so bad they couldn’t even move around at that point.  He said the mud was just like quicksand and the ruts were waist deep.”  Despite growing concerns, crews were forced to move forward.  “They needed more safety equipment, but they were denied, told it wasn’t in the budget.”

Next, Charlotte described how Charles had been in the middle of guiding a forklift operator towards a platform when the dampened soil beneath suddenly gave way.  The machine slid down into the rut, pinning Charles.  He later died during surgery at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, where he had been transported.

As the “Stop the Frack Attack” march drew to a close I managed to scout out director Josh Fox, who has giving interviews with local media crews.  Having seen his documentary on the dangers of fracking, I was eager to hear his opinions on which demographic seemed most receptive to his message.

“I really don’t know.  It’s kind of suited for all ages – rated G.”  “For gas,” interjected Dusty Horwitt of the Environmental Working Group, a District based non-profit which uses the power of public information to push for policy change regarding public and environmental health.

Later on I discovered Jolynn Minnaar, a documentarian from South Africa who journeyed to the U.S. to see first-hand the harmful effects of fracking.  I was introduced to her by a woman named Hillary, who had traveled to D.C. from New York.  She explained to me how she arranged for Jolynn and two farmers from Cape Town to fly to America last year, so that they could tour sites where drills were operating.

“We don’t have stuff like drilling in South Africa,” Jolynn claimed.  Suspicious of the oil and gas industries, she decided to investigate.  Last year, Jolynn produced a 24 minute film called The Fracking Façade, which exposes a flawed claim often abused in the sales pitch for promoting shale gas development.  Currently, she is working on a full length feature titled Un-earthed: Hydraulic Fracturing in the Karoo.

South Africa is just one of many international hot spots that the oil and gas industries have their sights set on.  As the United States has the most comprehensive collection of reports and tests on hydraulic fracturing, they are in the position to act as a model for other countries considering the process.

A final word from Charlotte seems to drive home an exceptionally valid point: The stuff has been there for billions and billions of years.  It’s still gonna be there.  What is the point of rushing?  There’s no sense without finding out whether it’s healthy or safe.  This is just a terrible industry!  They have no concern for public health. 

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