NPR recently covered a story about two former Pennsylvania Department of Public Health employees who said they were told to keep their mouths shut when people called in about fracking and related development. Former employee Tammi Stuck said, “we were absolutely not allowed to talk to them,” regarding people who called in insisting that fracking and related processes caused nosebleeds, migraines, skin rashes, and a bunch of other problems common to carcinogen exposure. The concerns mirror public health advocates who say that Pennsylvania hasn’t funded enough research to examine health impacts of blasting apart the Marcellus Shale.
Image © Triple Divide Documentary
Not only were these employees told to shut up, but they kept a list of buzzwords on their desks that supervisors had given to them in 2011 for fracking-related calls. Among the words, totaling 15 or 20, were “fracking,” “gas,” and “soil contamination”. If anyone called and used these words, employees were forbidden to talk to them.
Being in Montrose, Pennsylvania, these people who’ve called the Health Department are becoming my friends. I’ve met these people personally, heard their stories, heard the atrocities and hardships they’ve faced; I’ve seen the looks of disappointment on their faces when they talk about industry influence, death threats, and intimidating hearings with 27 lawyers on the Industry’s side and none on the other. It’s beyond unacceptable that these people have to suffer unheard, while national news agencies and industry reporters twist their words and try to talk about the “energy independence” side of “clean-burning” natural gas.
There is no energy independence—this gas is being piped out of these communities and shipped overseas. And soon, with the Cove Point LNG Export Terminal and the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, a lot more of this gas is going to be headed overseas to our fossil-fuel addicted global economy. There is nothing clean about natural gas—compressor stations are emitting six times the safe levels of several toxic chemicals, and abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania are leaking 4-13 percent of the state’s total methane emissions (with one million more across the U.S. doing the same).
My friends are being exploited and when they ask for help they are being ignored. Governing bodies aren’t protecting them. Pennsylvania is seen as a lost cause because of fracking. Many people in Susquehanna County are burnt-out, washed-up, and are letting the fossil fuel industry trample on their land and lives. But we’re keeping their stories alive, we’ve keeping the pressure on, and we’re fighting for energy justice.
Three weeks ago ago, this life was foreign to many of us. We were organizers, hoping to help to a community less fortunate than us. Most of us had never seen a well pad or a drilling rig or trucks lining the road headed for a fracking party, marked by triangle flags. After seeing gas flares incinerating the clouds and tainted well water, we’re members of this fight, members of this community, and we’re not going to stay silent.
Images © Public Herald, with permission