The world is not just watching the unfolding fracking bill debacle at the Illinois state capitol.
As the Illinois General Assembly votes this week on the state's increasingly suspect fracking bill, residents affected by similar operations in Pennsylvania and frac sand mining in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota took the extraordinary step today of releasing unprecedented letters warning of a "public health disaster" in the making, and called on Illinois lawmakers to set aside the flawed bill and "swiftly enact a moratorium."
"We have learned the hard way that regulations -- no matter how strict they sound on paper -- do not provide adequate protection to human health or property, especially in tough economic times when the state agencies charged with enforcing the regulations are understaffed and underfunded," states the letter signed by impacted Pennsylvania residents, released publicly this morning, along with links to a eye-opening "List of the Harmed" health registry of fracking-related afflictions.
As a powerful response to last week's House Executive Committee hearing on fracking bill SB 1715, where every member on the committee made the breathtaking admission of having never visited a fracking site, the letter challenges exaggerated promises of jobs and revenue, and provides a firsthand look at the growing health, workplace and environmental costs of Pennsylvania communities "transformed into toxic industrial zones" over the past five years.
Speaking on behalf of "communities situated atop vast deposits of silica sand, which are a necessary ingredient in the fracking process," neighboring residents in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota also underscored the need for Illinois lawmakers to reconsider the rushed fracking bill in their separate letter:
We are suffering greatly from the industrial strip-mining and processing of silica sand that has been the direct consequence of the ongoing shale gas boom in this nation. Our communities, our land, and our health are in the process of being literally destroyed by it. We beg you to declare a moratorium on fracking in Illinois, as we are sure that, should you move forward with this regulatory bill and open your state to large-scale fracking, the demand for frac sand will increase further, along with the price--and thus along with the pressure on our own political leaders to escalate further the devastating practice of frac sand mining and processing.
Key themes: Recklessness and liability.
Especially for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose apparent backroom brokering of the fracking regulation bill without scientists or health expert involvement has already triggered statewide outrage and placed the controversial issue of fracking into next year's gubernatorial race -- just in time for cash-strapped counties to struggle "with infrastructure maintenance, much less improvements, expansions or hirings needed for schools and services once drillers and others associated with fracking start moving in," according to a recent Chicago Tribune review of fracking tax gain.
Illinois, as the Pennsylvania residents note, is not alone in taking the fracking leap. But given its longer rap sheet, a recent Pennsylvania poll showed overwhelming support for a moratorium. New York awaits a decision, as well.
"A well may end up being poisoned a year from now -- and then what?" New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters last month, as he awaits a state health assessment on fracking. "I don't want the liability, frankly, and I don't have the knowledge."
In an editorial on Sunday, the L.A. Times scolded Gov. Jerry Brown's administration and handed over their support for a fracking moratorium as "the prudent course."
That same message was echoed by the Albany Times Union two months ago: "Whether you feel that natural gas fracking is the economic salvation of New York or an environmental disaster waiting to happen, there is one indisputable fact about it: The science is not in. Not by a long shot. And that's why a moratorium in New York makes sense."
Admonishing Illinois lawmakers to "enact a moratorium in order to take the time to visit areas with fracking, bring scientists and medical experts into the process, and undertake an environmental and public health study," the besieged Pennsylvania residents didn't pull any punches on their warnings: "If you allow fracking to go forward as planned, you will bring to your state the same horrific experiences we have suffered in Pennsylvania. "
The full letter is below.
May 28, 2013
Illinois General Assembly
Governor Pat Quinn
Attorney General Lisa Madigan
Springfield, IL 62706
Dear Governor Quinn, Attorney General Madigan, and Members of the Illinois General Assembly,
We write today to urge you not to allow high-volume horizontal fracturing ('fracking') for oil and gas in Illinois. We, the undersigned residents of Pennsylvania, are among the many victims of fracking. Informed by extensive first-hand experience with the oil and gas industry and suffering from the impacts of fracking, we implore you with the greatest sincerity to protect the health and safety of the people of Illinois and swiftly enact a moratorium on fracking. We have learned the hard way that regulations--no matter how strict they sound on paper--do not provide adequate protection to human health or property, especially in tough economic times when the state agencies charged with enforcing the regulations are understaffed and underfunded. Also, regulations cannot prevent accidents, and this is an industry prone to accidents of an especially frightening nature and whose effects are not temporary.
The oil and gas industry promises that fracking is safe and that it will create jobs and bring your state riches, but Pennsylvania's experience in the past five years tells a very different story. In short, water contamination has been widespread; our air has been polluted; countless individuals and families have been sickened; farms have been devastated, cattle have died, and our pristine streams and rivers have turned up dead fish; only a fraction of the promised jobs and revenue for the state have come to fruition; and our communities have been transformed into toxic industrial zones with 24/7 noise, flares, thousands of trucks, and increased crime. What's more, the jobs have made many workers so sick that they can no longer work in the industry.
A week ago, the Scranton Times-Tribune revealed that oil and gas development from fracking damaged the water supplies of at least 161 Pennsylvania homes, farms, churches and businesses between 2008 and the fall of 2012, as indicated by state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) records. The Times-Tribune notes that this number is not comprehensive; an exhaustive analysis was made impossible by DEP's lack of transparency, poor record keeping, potentially inadequate testing procedures, and lack of cooperation with the investigation. Regardless, with around 4,000 wells drilled during that four-year timespan, these 161 cases show how common and extensive water contamination is from fracking operations. These numbers are not surprising given the high rate of well casing failures. By the gas industry and the DEP's own data, well casing failure rate in Pennsylvania is 6.2% (rising to 8.9% in 2012). Failures occur when the layers of cement and steel that encase the well--providing a barrier between the toxic fracking fluid and freshwater aquifers--are damaged or become corroded. Even with the most careful workmanship cement can shrink, crumble, and crack as it ages.
Because the chemicals used in fracking operations are highly toxic, water contamination is a very serious problem. Although the industry blocks attempts to know what chemicals and combinations are used, we know that it is a cocktail whose ingredients are selected from a possible menu of around 600 chemicals. Those include many known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. They include chemicals such as benzene, toluene, hydrochloric acid and petroleum distillates. In addition to the chemicals used by the industry, the operation releases many hazardous materials from the shale itself, including radium, uranium and radon, arsenic, and mercury. Cows that have consumed water contaminated with used fracking fluid (flowback waste) have quickly died, and land where it has spilled has been scorched.
For us, fracking has been a public health disaster. Victims experience symptoms ranging from headaches, dizziness, burning eyes, sore throats, rashes, hair loss, severe nose bleeds, nausea, blood poisoning, liver damage, intestinal pain, neurological damage, cancers and many more. Many fracking victims who have suffered these health symptoms sign legal agreements that force them to forfeit all rights to speak about what has happened to them in order to settle with multi-national oil and gas corporations. Although many cases have been hidden from the public eye through these non-disclosure agreements, we have compiled a 'List of the Harmed' that now well exceeds 1,000. Our efforts to create this lay registry of healthy problems in an attempt to compensate for the legally enforced silence of our medical community. After extensive lobbying by the oil and gas industry, the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed Act 13, which, among other things, places a gag order on doctors who deal with victims of fracking and who wish information about the possible chemicals to which their patient may have been exposed.
The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project - an initiative of medical experts - is working with Pennsylvanians affected by fracking and has concluded that health impacts are serious and that we still do not have enough scientific data to make an informed decision or to be able to claim that ANY regulations will protect public health.
One major, uncontrollable problem is hazardous air pollutants, which are emitted from wellheads themselves, as well as from flares, dehydration devices, compressor stations, and the thousands of diesel trucks that are needed to service each well. Silica dust--a known cause of lung cancer and silicosis--is also a problem in an around drilling and fracking operations. We live with the knowledge that our children are breathing in hazardous air, and are left to wonder what and how severe the ramifications will be in their future.
Our environment has been transformed seemingly overnight from beautiful countryside and farms into toxic, heavy industrial zones. Commutes that used to take 30 minutes now take two hours because of the truck traffic. Many of our schools and playgrounds are blanketed in carcinogenic silica dust. Towering flares light up the night sky, while health-damaging levels of noise penetrate our homes 24/7. Only a small fraction of the promised jobs and revenue have materialized, with most jobs going to out-of-state workers and most revenue accruing to a only few individuals. Meanwhile the community has had to pay for road and bridge damage, increased accidents and need for more emergency workers, and we've had to live with increased crime rates.
In addition to the water contamination, air pollution, industrialized communities, increased crime rates and ruined farms, we've also experienced countless spills, blowouts and disasters. Communities have been evacuated because of explosions and uncontrolled leaks and fires.
As we have experienced the horrors of fracking firsthand for years, we have also carefully followed the industry in other parts of the country and watched the science that has emerged. We have followed what is happening in Illinois with great dismay. We are certain that your proposed regulations will not protect the health of Illinois residents, your farms, communities, environment, and everything that makes Illinois special. Please, do not make this mistake.
If you allow fracking to go forward as planned, you will bring to your state the same horrific experiences we have suffered in Pennsylvania. The oil and gas industry cannot and must not be trusted. We implore you to enact a moratorium in order to take the time to visit areas with fracking, bring scientists and medical experts into the process, and undertake an environmental and public health study. This is the only responsible course of action, and far too much is at risk to do otherwise. We would be glad to speak with you, and we invite you to our homes and communities to see fracking and its impacts first-hand.
Speaking on behalf of a broad network of communities, sincerely,
Ron Gulla, Hickory, PA
Adam Headley, Smithfield, PA
David Headley, Smithfield, PA
Grant Headley, Smithfield, PA
Linda Headley, Smithfield, PA
Ray Kemble, Dimock, PA
Jenny Lisak, Punxsutawney, PA
Matt Manning, Montrose, PA
Tammy Manning, Montrose, PA
Randy Moyer, Portage, PA
Vera Scroggins, Silver Lake Township, PA
Craig L. Stevens, Silver Lake Township, PA