We are excited to invite you to our first quarterly meeting for our members and supporters (that's you) on March 21st! You are the center of our work; without you, we wouldn’t exist! This year we want to engage more directly in person with you. Please join us to meet our new team members, to learn about our current work, and to let us know more about your ideas about the direction of CCJ. Click here for more information and to RSVP.
On Thursday, February 7th, a community meeting was held in the Marianna Volunteer Fire Hall titled “What Can You Do When Fracking is Your Neighbor?”. The meeting was hosted by a series of organizations, some local; some from farther away, including The Environmental Health Project, Earthworks, The Environmental Integrity Project, and the Clean Air Council.
The Borough of Marianna is a small rural community located in the southeastern region of Washington County, Pennsylvania. Washington County has the most fracked wells in the state of Pennsylvania, with 1,146 currently. According to FracTracker, there are presently no wells drilled within the borders of Marianna; however, fracking development surrounds the rural community and will be moving within the borough soon enough.
The sponsoring organizations gave several different presentations, all of which demonstrated different ways residents can engage and preempt potential hazards to their health and land as a result of fracking development occurring nearby. As stated earlier, fracking has been prevalent in the surrounding community for quite some time now and will be on the increase in the coming years.
Sarah Rankin, with The Environmental Health Project, provided a plethora of information for community members. The organization’s purpose is to collect data from individuals living near well sites regarding health impacts and changes due to fracking in their area. To do so, community members who are impacted can answer a health assessment questionnaire available here, with an opportunity to control “how and with whom [their] information is shared.” The organization uses this data to consult with individuals about ways they can mitigate health impacts based on their symptoms. They also use collected data to produce and spread information to educate people about protecting the health of the communities affected in the region. In addition, they provide their research findings to health care providers and public officials who are making decisions around fracking in the region. Residents living within a 3-mile radius of a fracking operation can request an air or water monitor from EHP to be used in their home free of cost. EHP monitors the air and water quality within the homes of residents and uses the data to mitigate any health impacts of those individuals and/or to present information to the DEP to request mitigation. EHP also suggests that, particularly for individuals with private water supplies (i.e., a well or spring), community members regularly monitor their water for conductivity based on the locality’s standards for water consumed.
According to EHP, “Research is mounting on the emissions from Unconventional Oil and Gas Development (UOGD) at all stages and on health effects experienced by nearby residents. Many of the toxic chemicals that have been found in air and water samples around UOGD operations have well known adverse health effects. For example, benzene is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing), toluene is a neurotoxin, and hydrogen sulfide irritates the lungs and can cause asthma. Noise and light pollution is associated with hearing loss, sleeplessness, and other health issues. Prolonged stress can also lead to significant health problems like heart disease, cancer, and depression..”
The Environmental Health Project also offered information regarding the health of workers in the industry, citing that “People who work in the unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD, commonly called “fracking”) industry have an annual fatality rate of 27.5 per 100,000, which is more than seven times higher than the rate for all US workers.” Workers are regularly exposed to wastewater, silica, diesel, lead and various other chemicals. EHP suggests that workers visit their website to learn more about their rights as employees, and/or discuss their experience with an EHP representative.
Earthworks is a national organization that conducts research across communities affected by fracking development. According to Leannn Leiter, Earthworks uses a FLIR GF320, a camera used across the industry to identify emissions, leaks, and “events that occur during routine oil and gas operations, or because of faulty equipment, accidents, and intentional releases by operators.” Earthworks has invested a lot of resources to building out their FLIR operation, which can be utilized by communities seeking reliable, visual data to support their efforts to protect themselves and others from harmful emissions. The camera displays the release of hydrocarbons, a compound of hydrogen and carbon, such as any of those which are the chief components of petroleum and natural gas, not just heat. This is useful for community members because the organization uses this technology to respond to the concerns of local people. Earthworks encourages residents to pay attention to odors, changes in vegetation and wildlife near their homes, changes in the sounds coming from facilities as well as changes in operation, as these are examples of potential increases in emissions. Much of what Earthworks uncovers is due to faulty equipment and/or increased emissions as a result of something on a site that can be fixed. You can report these concerns to Earthworks at 202-887-1872, extension 130, and you can learn more about the work Earthworks is doing in our region by checking out their publication “Country living, dirty air,” which includes research from Washington County.
Lisa Graves-Marcucci, with the Environmental Integrity Project, explored the prevalence of piecemeal permitting in the oil and gas industry whereby original permits for minor emissions are distributed in a series. These minor emissions permits are then later amended to actually include much greater emissions levels. This denies right-to-know opportunities for the community, public notices, and an actual understanding of the impacts of an entire operation. The organization also presented on issues of zoning in our region: given that much of rural Pennsylvania is not zoned, major industrial sites are popping up legally in agricultural communities.
To close out the meeting, Lois Bjornson described the work of the Clean Air Council and projected a number of photographs of the various impacts of hydrofracking, including the wells and pipelines associated with it.
As a CCJ Community Organizer, it was pleasing to see a turnout of 15-20 people in the space. I look forward to engaging more with rural communities like Marianna, where community members are facing the direct impacts of the oil and gas industry. I am interested in pursuing more meetings that look like the one held at the Marianna Volunteer Fire Department and having the opportunity to engage in conversations with more rural community members.
The following is a guest post written by Gillian Graber and the Protect PT team:
Why do we need to protect our waters?
Water is life. We depend on water for so many aspects of our lives. Yet our waters are some of the least protected entities in our state. While oil and gas companies contaminate our waters with their irresponsible practices, our state has refused to step in and protect our rights.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has refused to protect our rights to “clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment”, as guaranteed in our Pennsylvania Constitution. Instead, the PA DEP has prioritized gas developers over residents. Protect PT tried expressing our concerns to the PA DEP through letters and meetings, but the DEP continues to issue permits as if nothing is wrong.
This huge industry can break the law over and over again and not face the consequences, so what power do we have as residents to stop it? We are supposed to have an institution to enforce the law, but what happens when they don’t do their job?
We refuse to accept the Department’s refusal to protect your rights. We stand together and use our power which exists in our numbers and our knowledge. We spent over a year researching the actions of the PA DEP and identifying instances where they could have stepped in to protect our waters and didn’t. The PA DEP says they have the “discretion” to take enforcement action as they see fit. Do we, as residents have the discretion to not pay our taxes? Or break the law and not face consequences? No! Justice must be served. We felt the Attorney General of our state was the one to give us that justice.
So, we wrote to Attorney General Josh Shapiro, asking him to investigate the PA DEP’s irresponsible permitting and to enforce our Clean Streams Laws. But we didn’t stop there. We also wrote to Governor Tom Wolf.
And, we asked residents like you to join us in voicing your concerns by sending letters to the Attorney General and Governor. So far, almost 300 people have sent letters through Protect PT’s Action Network page.
Join your neighbors in voicing your concerns to the Attorney General and Governor. Together, we can make enough noise that they won’t be able to ignore us anymore. It’s time for us to stand together to protect our rights.
The stage is set for change. Right now, Attorney General Shapiro is bringing charges against the Pittsburgh Water and Sewage Authority for failing to notify residents of unsafe water and lead in the lines. Shapiro said we have rights to clean air and pure water and he is “here to defend that”.
It’s time we ask our Attorney General to make good on his promise to defend our rights! It’s time we demand change.
Alex is a Geology major attending California University of Pennsylvania, originally from Bunola, PA. Coming from rural Southwestern PA, she has seen both the positive and negative impacts of resource extraction in our area. Alex is excited to intern with CCJ to learn about community advocacy and educational outreach, but she’s most excited to spend time hiking and monitoring the streams within Ryerson. She hopes to take her experience at CCJ with her in her career as a geologist, with long term goals working for a state or federal regulatory agency. When Alex has free time she prefers to draw or knit usually while hanging out with her veiled chameleon buddy, Bowen.
This week, the Office of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez released the “Green New Deal Resolution.” The resolution outlines the goals, motivations, and responsibilities of the Green New Deal: a call for a collective effort to respond to climate change in a way that takes into account the economic, environmental, and social justice implications of changing climate conditions.
“A bold vision is desperately needed in our current climate and economic crisis. It is critical that as the resolution turns into policy, we listen to workers and frontline community members to drive the solutions” - Veronica Coptis, Center for Coalfield Justice Executive Director
Living in the coalfields, we all know that a plan to fight climate change won’t work unless it takes into account the needs of those most at risk - those who live with the everyday impact of pollution, environmental degradation, or resource extraction. We live in a place where our environmental concerns are inseparable from our economic concerns. The Green New Deal resolution has evolved over time to be more inclusive of communities like ours - and we support its language about fair transitions for our workers, diversifying our economy, and giving power to frontline communities.
We want to draw attention to a few of the Green New Deal’s resolutions and goals that make us particularly hopeful about the potential of this. We are excited to envision a future where our government is accountable to these principles.
The resolution calls for, with “transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline communities,” a government-launched mobilization to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.” We are particularly engaged by the aim of a just transition. We believe that a fair economic transition is possible for our region’s future - and with national support for our transition this future becomes even more possible. The resolution explains what this transition would require:
“And be it further resolved, that to achieve the Green New Deal goals, a Green New Deal will require… directing investments to spur economic development, as well as deepen and diversify industry in local and regional economies and build wealth and community ownership, prioritizing high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline communities and any communities, such as those reliant on greenhouse-gas intensive industries, that may otherwise struggle with the transition”
For those of us living on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction, climate/environmental justice is inseparable from economic justice. If we consider energy, we must also consider the people involved in and affected by the energy industry; if we want to build resilience to environmental change, we must also build a diverse and resilient economy. The New Green Deal strives to address both climate change and economic inequality. Through this, it gives our community hope for a better future.
Contact us if you want to discuss this in more detail.