Last week, Deepak Chopra invited Mark Ruffalo, a well-informed advocate of water defense, to dialogue with him about fracking, the fast-forward gas drilling practice that has colonized 23 states thus far. Chopra and Ruffalo met before a studio audience at DeepakHomeBase, (the new social media salon co-launched by Chopra and Paulette Cole, the CEO of ABCHome) which is featuring a series of "Love in Action" conversations with celebrity cause champions (like Ruffalo, Russell Simmons and Fran Drescher).
Although they met for the first time, both Deepak Chopra and Mark Ruffalo have something in common: As New York residents, they drink water that originates in the Delaware River -- and so do 15 million other Americans residing in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. In less than five weeks, a governmental commission, authorized by President Obama to permit fracking wells next to the Delaware River, will green-light drilling to begin. Since the fracking process uses over 500 highly toxic chemicals, once those wells are fracked, Ruffalo is convinced that the water used by he, Chopra and 15 million other folks will be impacted.
"In my area, in the last five years, we've had a once in 50-year flood, a 150-year flood, and a 500-year flood," Ruffalo reported. "The fracking chemicals sit in open pits, get trucked around, or sent through pipelines that can burst. What do you think happens when frack chemicals and floods and storm swollen rivers mix?"
When fracking chemicals migrate, there's no currently known fix. A letter sent to New York's governor by 59 scientists, including four from the prestigious National Academy of Science, underscored that municipal filtration systems won't be adequate to filter fracking contaminants, which include "benzene and other volatile aromatic hydrocarbons, surfactants and organic biocides, barium and other toxic metals, and soluble radioactive compounds containing thorium, radium, and uranium."
"We're made up of water, and whatever we put into the water system will eventually migrate into us and recirculate in the human bloodstream," Chopra told Ruffalo.
Indeed, Duke University studies confirm that fracking chemicals often migrate into area water supplies, and a recent ProPublica article reveals that scientific research into the very health impacts that Chopra describes, is woefully inadequate:
"Water and air pollution are present in the same regions where residents say they are getting sick. Last spring, the EPA doubled its estimates of methane gas leaked from drilling equipment and said the amount of methane pollution that billows from fracking operations was 9,000 times higher than researchers had previously thought."
Though leakage is higher, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating whether the usable gas is far lower than estimated in gas company projections.
"Many of these chemicals are 'endocrine disruptors,'" Ruffalo told Chopra. "What do those do?"
"The endocrine system consists of all the hormones and glands that run the body. If we allow neurotoxins and carcinogens to disrupt the body's healing system, we're done." Chopra warned. "We are tampering with the web of life."
But like most of us, Chopra couldn't quite believe that elected officials would permit this. Officials like New York's Governor Cuomo, who in July lifted a temporary order, and green-lighted drilling in New York; and President Obama, who according to Julia Walsh of Frack Action, both supports the drilling in the Delaware River basin, and also signed an agreement for gas drilling to proceed at the very foot of the Himalayas (!).
Chopra was incredulous. "There's no law to prevent it just because some company decided to do this?" he asked.
"If fracking fell under the standard regulations that all other industries must follow, we wouldn't be sitting here, having this conversation today," Ruffalo told him. "No industry in modern times has enjoyed the same amount of deregulation. They in no way are compelled to comply with the Safe Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and more -- and they don't. If they want to make fracking quote unquote safe, all they would have to do is comply with those regs."
Critiquing the claim that fracking is the "bridge to renewables," Ruffalo calls it "the bridge to nowhere." He favors the rapid development of renewable energy technologies, such as solar, geothermal, wind, wave, and many more, which Stanford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Mark Z. Jacobson has shown can meet energy needs, while slowing climate change (in a TED talk highlighted here.)
"It's imperative that we opt out of the fossil fuel endgame," says Ruffalo, who also appeared on Al Gore's Twenty-Four Hours of Reality program last week (to watch, go here). He contends that another 30 years of extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction, like Tar Sands and fracking, will accelerate climate change which is already escalating towards the point of human extinction. "For the sake of our children, we must stop this now," he urged.
"So far we've lacked the political will," Chopra mused.
"What's driving this is the will of our politicians, they have our health and well being in their hands," replied Ruffalo.
Over the next five weeks is the countdown for water contamination in five states and two major urban areas of the Northeast. Once active drilling begins, 15 million people join Deepak Chopra and Mark Ruffalo in finding out all that the government doesn't know about fracking. That's why Mark Ruffalo's new organization Water Defense currently features action links for contacting both the president and the governor, to fill them in before rather than after fracking crosses the Delaware, while Frack Action and United for Action are sponsoring actions to prevent fracking the Delaware. Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy have info on the plans to frack New York, and Catskill Mountainkeeper offers more information on flooding and fracking. To learn more about fracking, see the Oscar nominated film, Gasland, by Emmy Award-winning director Josh Fox.
So my question to you is this: Do you think that New York's water supply is vulnerable to fracking? If so, why? If not, why not?
You can get updates on DeepakHomeBase's ongoing "Love in Action" series here, answer my question here in comments (or here on video), upload videos on your experiences with fracking here, and get the coverage of health, environment, food, public policy, and activism (plus radio and podcasts) by following me on Huffington, and getting my free ezine here.
Follow Alison Rose Levy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AlisonRoseLevy