Fracking

Community Health in Southwestern Pennsylvania

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This blog was written by a concerned and engaged CCJ member and retired nurse who attended Monday night’s community meeting at the Canon-McMillan High school. With her permission, we are sharing her comments with you as the 5th in our What’s on your mind? series.

“Well, to say that the October 7 community meeting at Canon-McMillan HS was disappointing would be an understatement. 

In my view, whether they meant to disclose it or not, the speakers’ slides clearly indicated their awareness of factors warranting further investigation and identified limitations in their data collection criteria. They are aware of gaps in their assessment process. However, rather than acknowledge that their data collection criteria and CDC guidelines need to be revisited for their continued relevance (given the guidelines are 31 years old), they used those weaknesses as a defense for the conclusions they had drawn. I’m not sure how both the CDC and the DOH can justify not exploring opportunities for improvement in such important processes.  

The comments and questions from the audience focused almost exclusively on Ewing’s sarcoma rather than the increase in cancer types collectively, on fracking rather than all area pollution sources, of which there are many (including the long-standing radiation storage sites), and on chastising the DOH. However, given their role and expertise, the DOH could not be expected to address the impact of the multifaceted activities of the natural gas industry on the environment, as that is not their role.

We are seeing a clear inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to control pollution from many sources. Unfortunately, there has been no investment of time or resources to go by the precautionary principle, which could have protected many of us from the harms to public health and the environment. 

There is plenty of blame to go around: the DOH, the natural gas industry, the U.S. Department of Energy, local legislators, Washington and Greene County Commissioners, and the Washington County Chamber of Commerce – all of whom are steadfast in their support of the natural gas industry (see recent Observer-Reporter article by Jeff Kotula, President of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce; Letter to the Editor in support of the oil and gas industry by Diana Irey Vaughan, Washington County Commissioner; Senator Camera Bartolotta’s endless touting of anything industry-related; the newly-approved Greene County Comprehensive Plan. Also, notice the difference between the local Washington Observer-Reporter and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper coverage – the list goes on…)

Most cancers tend to manifest over time. It appears there is enough evidence at this point to warrant a proactive approach via aggressive research rather than react when the incidence numbers meet CDC guidelines.  Like it or not, nothing of substance will be done to ban polluting sources until that elusive cause-and-effect is uncovered. I believe the panel should have included additional speakers who can support the need for a comprehensive science-based air, water, and soil assessment. 

I am hopeful that Monday evening’s event, if nothing else, brought sufficient attention to the DOH Registry’s shortcomings and will prompt a comprehensive review. I’ve found over the years that crises can serve as a catalyst for change. 

I do want to add how appreciative many of us are that you [CCJ] are advocating for the residents of Washington and Greene Counties, especially the families who are suffering the consequences of these polluting industries - especially when all around us, accommodations are being made to court and support these companies and to defend their activities, though they threaten public health and welfare.”


How many more of my friends have to die before the state takes action?

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As many of you have been following, the Department of Health of the great State of Pennsylvania held a public meeting at Canon-McMillan High School last night, October 7th, to discuss the methodology used to draw up their report, which concluded that there is no cancer cluster within the district. 

Residents across the community have been working tirelessly to try to persuade our elected officials to serve us and get answers as we continue to lose people - children - to a variety of cancers including one of the rarest, Ewing’s Sarcoma. 

As many of our followers know, I am a 2015 graduate of Canon-McMillan High School. This issue is so close to my heart that I changed my career path and sought work in environmental justice because I feel so wholeheartedly that what is happening in our backyards is the issue of our time here in southwestern Pennsylvania. 

For centuries, we have systematically been swallowed up and spit back out by companies doing fossil fuel extraction. The industry takes from us until there is nothing left to take. When we are no longer deemed "profitable,” we are burdened with the responsibility of cleaning up the mess created by industry and suffering the severe economic bust. All the while, our elected officials serve industry in the name of “economic prosperity,” aiding hedge fund companies that don’t have our interests in mind.

In an effort to answer residents, State Representatives O’Neal and Ortitay asked the DOH to conduct a study on our school district in the spring of this year. Conveniently, the DOH announced that we did not constitute a “cancer cluster” 24 hours before our representatives were holding a “private” cancer cluster meeting with UPMC doctors and affected families who were only invited after we organized and demanded they let impartial residents into the room. Our discomfort with the manner in which they were handling the meeting was due to the fact that both Ortitay and O’Neal are friends of industry, as evidenced through their voting records and through their campaign financing.  

After the DOH announcement of no cancer cluster in April, through organizing and community building, residents uncovered that three cases of Ewing’s Sarcoma in the community were not included in the study. 

The DOH gave a presentation yesterday at Canon McMillan High School that showed complex tables of statistical significance. While their report certainly showed an increase in Ewing’s cases, and a 125% increase in bone cancer prevalence in the region since 2005, they insisted there was no reason to be alarmed. Their presentation had not been updated to include the cases that were left out of the report, and they told us that there are higher numbers of childhood cancers in Allegheny County so we shouldn’t be concerned. Allegheny County is 5.7 times larger than Washington County. 

We wanted the Department of Health to conduct another study that included all of the cases and expanded beyond Canon McMillan School District. Concerned parents and those who have experienced loss lined up with a series of questions for the DOH in an effort to show that we are not only angry and disheartened by the wall we seem to be running up against, but that we are afraid. The DOH told us they wouldn't answer any questions that were not specific to the research they conducted. I suppose this was their way of saying there are “no fracking concerns.” 

Kurt and Janice Blanock at Canon McMillan High School 10-7-19; “It should seem obvious with an ounce of common sense, sincere heartfelt concern, and true courage that we need to be looking at environmental triggers.”- Janice Blanock

Kurt and Janice Blanock at Canon McMillan High School 10-7-19; “It should seem obvious with an ounce of common sense, sincere heartfelt concern, and true courage that we need to be looking at environmental triggers.”- Janice Blanock

By the time the DOH cut off questions and ended the meeting, I was feeling very overwhelmed. As I stood in my alma mater, the rush of memories of the loss we felt when Luke was diagnosed overcame me. I was sitting in the cafeteria when we found out that Luke had a tumor in his back the size of a baseball, and we all wondered in fear why we never saw it or felt it as we huddled for the alma mater during basketball games. I can’t stop the replay in my head. When Mitch was diagnosed, the idea that this was all so rare that we shouldn’t be afraid was completely gone. Our generation lives in fear, afraid of every bump and ache in our bodies. 

I don’t want to have to beg government bureaucrats to care about us. I am sick of pleading for our existence. 

I want to ask the Governor himself, how many more of my friends have to die before he stops trading political deals to protect the natural gas industry at the expense of my community? 

 Yesterday’s meeting proved that they don’t plan to pay much regard to our concerns. They only took a few questions from the audience, they didn't take responsibility for the mistakes in their report, and they refused to acknowledge any of the environmental concerns in our community or across the state. 

Since calling on the DOH to study the Canon McMillan School District, the representatives have secured a $100,000 grant to fund UPMC for genetic research of Ewings Sarcoma. They have offered radon testing kits to residents of Canon-McMillan to help “ease our concerns,” and they’ve called on the National Institute of Health to conduct research on Ewing’s. 

None of these actions address the fact that the natural gas industry is expanding and developing, with fewer regulations, right in our backyards. Genetic research nor broad national research is going to look at the chemicals and radium that are being spewed into our drinking water sources and into our air. It doesn't take a PhD to realize that when something is occurring in a given space, it’s imperative to take a look at what is happening in said space. We do not have time for 20 more years of research before we acknowledge that something is wrong. How many more kids have to die or families have to suffer before we take this impact seriously? 

Instead of taking precautions, our representatives are aiding the natural gas industry in developing and expanding, with fewer regulations and more state support. EQT and Range are bragging across our communities about expanding and building “super well pads”. Industry is experimenting here to get to the Utica formations of shale gas. Our legislators are supporting pipeline infrastructure from our backyards to the cracker plant in Beaver county, where they’ll be producing petrochemicals - plastic - with our natural gas that we have supposedly been drilling to support energy independence and patriotism. Just two weeks ago, a plethora of our elected officials, among both parties, stood behind the Marcellus Shale Coalition as they discussed how “great” the shale industry has been for our community. 

We will not allow our elected officials to ignore our right to a healthy environment. They will not mislead us into believing they are respecting our concerns and serving us by dancing around the issue. Shale gas development has proven to be a risk and it is not an alarmist stance to demand that something has got to change here.  

We couldn't trust the green flags of industry or the State when our grandparents were playing baseball on the Strabane uranium site, and we can’t trust them now. We certainly shouldn't be dumping, and developing, more in the name of economic prosperity whenever we can't keep track or pinpoint triggers from the "economic prosperity" legacy costs of the past. We need to come together and demand better, healthier, and more sustainable investments in our region. We have the technology to be better, and I am not going to rest and accept these empty protections from our elected officials.  I hope you will join me in fighting for our communities and our future. 

For more information regarding this issue, a listening ear,or to talk through all of this,  you can contact me at heaven@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 Ext. 103. 

Below is news coverage of the event: 

https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2019/10/07/public-hearing-held-in-canonsburg-to-ask-officials-about-spike-of-cancer-cases/

https://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2019/10/04/Pennsylvania-Health-meeting-Monday-Ewing-sarcoma-Canon-McMillan-deaths/stories/201910040038

https://observer-reporter.com/news/localnews/department-of-health-explains-cancer-cluster-results-parents-concerned-groups/article_f8aea092-e932-11e9-ace0-1f7ba421c309.html

https://www.wpxi.com/news/top-stories/parents-call-for-action-doh-holds-public-meeting-over-cancer-cases-in-washington-co/994490866?utm_source=homestream&utm_medium=site_navigation&utm_campaign=homestream_click

https://observer-reporter.com/news/localnews/health-department-to-explain-report-on-childhood-cancers/article_8b381c94-e56f-11e9-95f9-5f1d7f95690e.html

https://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/news/2019/10/07/canon-mac-parents-want-deeper-investigation-cancer.html


Protect Environmental Justice Communities and Urge Legislators to Vote No on HB 1102

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Legislators are making a push to promote monumental oil and gas development bills here in Pennsylvania. On September 23, the House Commerce Committee voted to pass one of these bills, House Bill (“HB”) 1102. This bill proposes major environmental issues such as placing those without the means to fight environmental injustice on the front lines of harmful pollution. HB 1102 also takes advantage of the state’s taxpayers all at the expense of the Commonwealth's natural resources. 

Environmental justice communities are often economically depressed. HB 1102 allows a seven member politically appointed Authority, without limitation, to single out these communities for the purpose of developing natural gas and petrochemical infrastructure. 

HB 1102 also provides massive subsidies to the natural gas and petrochemical industries. While the state is cutting budgets for schools and municipalities, they continue to offer huge economic benefits for the industry. This bill continues this trend while allowing the industry to remove the Commonwealth's natural resources. 

Send a letter to your representative now using the link here or filling out the form below: 



Prevent PA House of Representatives from Privatizing Oil and Gas Permitting

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The Pennsylvania House of Representatives will likely vote on two bills from the dangerous Energize PA Package to encourage more fracking and petrochemical facilities in our state. HB 1106 and 1107 are two bills that will change Pennsylvania's environmental permitting process.  

Under HB 1106, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would be given 30 days to review a permit application regulating air quality, waste, erosion and sedimentation, and dam safety and encroachments. With such a short window of time to review a permit, the public would lose their opportunity to share comments or concerns about the proposed project. It also creates a “referee” to decide disputes that arise between the DEP and applicants over the application completeness.

HB 1107 terminates all employees with the DEP who are involved with the permitting process, regardless of experience and education and replaces them with a politically appointed five-member Commission. The bill would require the transfer of all equipment, files, and funds used by the DEP to review permit applications to the new Commission. The bill does not require Commission to hold any qualifications including civil service requirements.

Send a letter to your representative now using link here or filling out form below:

Over 60 People Attended “What to Know When Fracking is Your Neighbor” Event

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The Center for Coalfield Justice partnered with Fractracker and The Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project to hold a public meeting in Canonsburg on the evening of Thursday, September 12th at The Canonsburg Middle School. The event, “What to Know When Fracking Is Your Neighbor” aimed to inform residents of the work our organizations are doing around impacts of fracking in our communities, and how they can get involved. The event ran for two hours from 6:00 PM-8:00 PM. During the first hour, folks learned about fracking and their various health impacts from presentations by Fractracker’s Erica Jackson and EHP’s Sarah Rankin. In addition, Heaven Sensky and Veronica Coptis from CCJ spoke on behalf of the power of organizing and gave attendees a pathway to engaging with a campaign to hold government and industry accountable in our fight for transparency of the impacts on our communities from the oil and gas industry. 

The second half of the event was led by residents, who submitted questions anonymously ahead of the event, during the event, and via an open mic opportunity. The panel answered from folks around a plethora of issues including the impact of EPA rollbacks on methane emissions, how to keep moving on accountability measures, and what we can do as a community to fight the feelings of powerlessness. Nearly 80 people attended. 

CCJ will be planning organizing trainings for concerned residents to attend and learn how we are building individuals power around these issues, and what we can do next. In addition, we hope to take this panel structure to other affected communities not only in Washington County, but Greene County, and with partners in Fayette and Westmoreland Counties.

Watch the livestream here:

What to Ask Your Local Officials When a Well Pad is Too Close For Comfort

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The Augustine well pad in Cecil Township has raised a lot of questions for local residents, who recently built their homes where a well pad is permitted to operate, at a minimum required distance from their homes, by part of the same Board of Supervisors that oversaw the permitting of their neighborhood. The people living in Windsor Woods, a new community development, don’t own their oil and gas rights, and only recently were they minimally informed of the oil and gas development. 

As the operations at the Augustine Pad picked up, residents came to their Board of Supervisors seeking answers and help. Unfortunately, they left with even more unanswered questions. 

The following is a series of questions and answers that residents can use to inform their conversations with the Board going forward. This information should help people to understand what the Board of Supervisors has the power to do in managing oil and gas development. 

Does the community have the ability to challenge the pad development and permitting process through existing zoning laws?

  • Challenging well pads through zoning laws is not consistent across townships, and many townships have been unsure where oil and gas development falls into the zoning categories as they stand. Many communities lack any zoning at all. The following resources can be used to further understand how the zoning of oil and gas has played out elsewhere in Pennsylvania: 


What power does the board of supervisors have to regulate and minimize the impact of the Augustine Pad?

    • Act 13- “Act 13 of 2012 enacted stronger environmental standards, authorized local governments to adopt an impact fee and built upon the state's ongoing efforts to move towards energy independence as unconventional gas development continues.”

    • State of Pennsylvania Act 13 Impact fee language 

    • Article 1 Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution says that it is necessary to invest in the power of local government to minimize impacts of development in order to protect public natural resources. Townships can go above and beyond what is in Act 13 as long as it is justifiable. 

    • Townships can say they want a greater setback distance for homes in certain areas; for instance, depending on the density of the residential parcel or to protect property value. However, there needs to be something specific about the community that gives the township vested interest in protecting it, for example, sensitive populations.

What should residents specifically ask of the township?

    • Keep in mind that there is a difference between hearing public comment, and listening and considering public comment. 

    • Residents should feel empowered to ask that the Board require a traffic study so that when decisions are made around infrastructure accountability, the township can ask the oil and gas developers for exactly what is needed on certain roads and in specific communities.

    • Residents should feel empowered to ask for a comprehensive air study, including but not limited to how increased development of oil and gas operations across the township will impact air quality, specifically related to the density of residential neighborhoods and the topography.  

    • In the conditional-use permitting process, the Board of Supervisors can negotiate with the company, in this case Range Resources, to invest where they want them to. The bottom line is that Range Resources wants to develop Cecil township, and it is on the Board of Supervisors to hold them accountable and negotiate on behalf of the residents to widen, improve, and invest in infrastructure impacted by the industry. 

    • People should feel empowered to ask their elected officials to gather additional information in general.

If at any point residents are hearing that the oil and gas industry will not develop Cecil Township further if they are required to invest in infrastructure and respect setbacks, people should push back and insist that the wet gas is here, that the company has already leased and paid continued bonuses to maintain leases, and that the petrochemical buildout, including the Beaver Cracker Plant, the Mark West Processing Plant, and the connecting Shell-Falcon Pipeline, indicates otherwise. Further, development is coming and folks should not be afraid to demand increased safety and health measures be taken. 


To follow up on any of this information, or for more information regarding oil and gas development, feel free to contact Heaven Sensky at heaven@coalfieldjustice.org, or 724-229-3550 ext 103.

Fighting for Freedom from Plastics on this Independence Day

On July 4th, many Americans forget the history of the United States. July 4th, 1776 was the date that the Declaration of Independence was published, letting England know that the American colonies considered themselves free and were dissolving the “political bands” that tied the two together. Just as Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day, July 4th is not the day that we won our independence (that’s September 3, 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolutionary War).  

Internet meme inspired by  The Office

Internet meme inspired by The Office


To be fair, the first step in kicking any bad habit - be it a tax-crazy king or biting your nails - is to decide that the habit is no longer acceptable and to declare that its time is coming to an end. One of the biggest of our collective bad habits is plastics. 

This month is #PlasticFreeJuly, and people around the world are committing to reducing or eliminating their plastic use throughout the month, ditching coffee to-go cups and shampoo bottles in favor of cute, reusable travel mugs and shampoo bars. 

Don’t let getting down with the red-white-and-blue at holiday parties stop you from kicking your plastics habit! Here are some ways to go plastic-free (or reduced-plastic) on your holiday:

1) If you’re traveling, BYOR (bring your own reusables). If you, like so many, are the ultimate shopper and don’t have a to-go dinnerware kit already but it’s too late to order online, you can purchase almost everything you could need in portable sizes anywhere that camping supplies are sold. If you’re not so big on shopping, bring one of those Tupperware containers that you got from your grandmother that will still be around and in use by your own grandkids (you know what I’m talking about). Throw your container, utensils, and a cup into a bag - you’re all set! 

📸: Dianne Peterson,  Our Children Our Earth

📸: Dianne Peterson, Our Children Our Earth

2) If you’re hosting, offer reusables. You can ask people to scrape and rinse their own plates, cutting down on your cleanup later: I’m sure if Emily Post had known about our plastic crisis, she’d support this. If you don’t have enough reusables, encourage people to bring their own (see #1), buy paper/compostable products, and put out separate receptacles for refuse and composting. It’ll cut down on the cost of buying disposables if you ask people to keep their plate as long as possible, too. 

3) Look for plastic-free or reduced-plastic drink options. Drinks like water and lemonade are easy to serve in Pinterest-worthy coolers - don’t waste your money on bottled water. Pop/soda/sodapop is available in recyclable aluminum cans, both 8oz and 12oz sizes - grab the 8oz if you typically pick up a lot of half-full pop cans at the end of the party. 

4) Go for glass. Yes, that craft brewery may have great brews, but there may also be plastic on their aluminum cans! Cans are often wrapped in plastic shrink-wrap because smaller breweries order their cans in bulk but don’t need too many of one particular variety. Investing in a reusable growler can often save you money when you return to get refills - always a good option - and single-serve glass bottles can be recycled at most local recycling facilities. (Glass, unlike plastic, can be recycled repeatedly and still retain its integrity.) 

The plastic shrink wrap is particularly noticeable on the black can. Can you see it?  If you can’t do cans right, wine, keep to glass.  📸: Sarah Martik

The plastic shrink wrap is particularly noticeable on the black can. Can you see it?

If you can’t do cans right, wine, keep to glass.

📸: Sarah Martik


5) Decorate responsibly. Do you really need the plastic table confetti? Will anyone notice the plastic firework cupcake picks? Why go with a frilly plastic wreath that you’ll toss at the end of the day when you can get crafty and make one to use every year? There are plenty of ways to have a cute party without the plastic! 

6) No styrofoam. Your fork pokes through styrofoam plates, and styrofoam coolers don’t work, anyway. If your only option is single-use plastic disposables, for the love of all things frugal and environmentally-friendly, don’t go with styrofoam. 

As you’re declaring personal freedom from plastic, don’t forget that people won’t join in your revolution (like the French did for the colonies) if you don’t tell them about it! People are going to notice if you’re using bamboo utensils: a simple “I’m doing what I can to eliminate unnecessary plastic in my life,” is a great way to open a dialogue. If you want to be like the Marquis de Lafayette and turn the political tide in favor of Independence, consider moving beyond personal changes. Advocate at all levels of government, and add your voice to the movement to #BreakFreeFromPlastic

CCJ Organizer Attends Frontline Oil and Gas Summit led by Indigenous Leaders

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The Frontline Oil and Gas Summit took place May 16th through the 18th in Ponca City, Oklahoma. The conference was held in the epicenter of oil and gas development in the battleground state of Oklahoma, only miles from ConocoPhillips 66 massive refinery, and surrounded by fracking operations as far as the eye could see. The conference was led by an Indigenous Ponca Nation elder, Casey Camp-Horinek.

The summit honored the idea that “Environmental Justice means always standing with frontline communities most impacted—and recognizing that the center of the storm is often where innovation and courage meet to propel our movements forward.  We neglect organizing in “sacrifice communities” to the detriment of our movement for meaningful change.”

Casey is a tribal leader within the Ponca Nation, in addition to a movement leader for environmental justice across the entire world. The conference welcomed 160 organizers and activists, 75% of which were living on the frontlines of oil and gas development, including CCJ Organizer Heaven Sensky. Participants spent three days sharing their personal stories with one another and building solidarity across oil and gas frontlines all across the United States, including Alaska. Over the sharing of meals and traditional Ponca ceremonies, participants gained immense power by coming together in support of one another’s work across their widespread places of home.

Casey brought together her immediate and extended family to provide meals and comfort for the guests of the Ponca Nation, who got to share much needed joy from several of her grandchildren as they shared blessed water and laughter with all in attendance.

On the last day of the conference, the Ponca Nation led the summit in a march past the ConocoPhillips 66 refinery to a billboard newly erected by the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) foundation. The billboard is part of a larger effort to improve policy and increase awareness around the staggering epidemic that is the murder and trafficking of indigenous women across the United States. The MMIW works in Ponca specifically because the presence of work “man camps” in places of high oil and gas activity is a direct threat to the safety and well being of indigenous women.

As the march passed the refinery, Casey’s son, Mikasi, shared with all of those who participated that their community is ravaged with childhood cancers and increased asthma. Given its closeness to the refinery, specifically within 12 miles, the soil on their entire reservation is legally considered contaminated and unsafe to farm and eat from.

What is happening to the native Ponca Nation of Oklahoma as a result of oil and gas development resonates directly with the multifaceted issues surrounding oil and gas development  in the coalfields of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

For more information about the conference, visit https://frontlineoilandgas.org

To learn how to support the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Organization, visit https://mmiwusa.org

For any questions or to learn more about supporting others in their fight to protect their communities, you can email Heaven at heaven@coalfieldjustice.org



Petrochemical Disasters - Present and Future

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A massive fire at an Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) petrochemical plant in Deer Park, Texas took four days to extinguish but is still causing major health and environmental concerns. Tanks containing naphtha, xylene, and pygas caught fire, and air monitoring detected benzene, toluene, other VOCs and particulate matter in the air for a wide radius. (For more detailed coverage of the timeline, chemicals, etc, see this statement released by our allies at Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.) On March 27, 2019, the Texas Department of State Health Services issued a warning not to eat fish caught in the Houston Ship Channel, a warning that was echoed by the EPA. Amid the crisis, ITC encouraged residents to submit any claims related to the incident to them; however, in the claims submission process, they included some fine print that stated once payment of a claim had been made, the claimant waived his/her right to sue. In the span of a week, residents of Deer Park and the surrounding areas were bombarded with crucial, and often conflicting, information, which can be exhausting in and of itself.

Watching this unfold via the news in Pennsylvania, it’s easy to watch and think “those poor people,” but also to have a disconnected view because we “don’t know them.” They’re not our neighbors. Texas isn’t culturally the same as Appalachia or Pittsburgh. We may have never even been to the state. But we do know the people who were impacted. They are people who have been impacted by extreme energy extraction, production, and use. They are people whose government is influenced by industry money. They are people who every day live with industry in their backyards, and who are far outmatched dollar-for-dollar by companies. They are people who want clean air and clean water - and more, they want to be able to trust when officials tell them that their air and water are “safe.”

In Appalachia, a massive petrochemical buildout is underway, a buildout meant to protect corporations from the climate change-related risks their infrastructure in the Gulf faces and to help gas and oil companies to hedge against the competition from renewables. This buildout is designed to produce polyethylene pellets that can then be used in plastics manufacturing - when we already have a crisis of plastics pollution. The fracking boom has already been changing our landscape for over a decade: presently, there are 1,696 active unconventional gas (fracking) wells in Washington County and 1,309 in Greene County, but petrochemicals will ensure that even more wells are drilled. The real impacts of this buildout on public health, entire economies, and the environment will be devastating - the petrochemical industry is already devastating many places where people have lived with it for longer than we have even been talking about it. Remember: cheap plastic is not cheap. We cannot breathe or drink money. No matter where we live.

Our allies at Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, a grassroots group, and Earthworks, a national group, have been doing great work to make sure people are informed and safe. Please click the links above to learn more about them and to donate if you can.


In Marianna: What Can You Do When Fracking Is Your Neighbor?

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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.