by guest blogger Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper
In March, a jury awarded $4.3 million to two Pennsylvania families that drank well water contaminated by methane. Gas wells drilled by an oil corporation leaked the methane into the water. As a result, the families suffered vomiting, dizziness and skin rashes. In April, a man in Salem, Pennsylvania, was burned in his home when a nearby natural gas pipeline exploded, destroying his house and sending him to the hospital.
What do these incidents have in common? Gas fracked from shale. And they are just a few of the many examples of people suffering at the hands of the industries drilling and transporting fracked shale gas.
From source to end use, fracked shale is harming communities. Research shows overwhelmingly that fracking contaminates our air and water. In Pennsylvania alone, there have already been more than 200 confirmed cases of drinking water contamination caused by natural gas drilling. Problems from contamination last for generations. For instance, children of mothers living within 10 miles of gas wells are 30 percent percent more likely to be born with congenital heart disease and twice as likely to have a neural tube defect.
In a rush to get this deadly gas to market, companies are scrambling to build more pipelines, which inflict a new set of harms and scars on humans and our environments. In fact, all across the country, the fracking industry is rushing to build ever-more dangerous pipelines, cutting through private property and public lands in the process. Not only do these pipeline developments encourage increased greenhouse-gas emissions, threatening the future of our planet, but they also create tangibly hazardous threats to human health and safety.
Much of this is approved by a federal agency known as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). While FERC is tasked with reviewing and approving fracked gas pipelines to ensure orderly development that complies with the law, the agency has a long history of responding only to the needs of the fracking industry, failing to protect communities or natural resources that are fundamental to sustaining life.
FERC has used its authority to encourage and support the rapid proliferation of pipelines, compressors, and liquified natural gas facilities that export U.S. natural gas to other nations. FERC has used its legal authority to help the pipeline industry strip people of their property rights, forcing them to become unwilling hosts to dangerous pipelines that damage their property and limit their ability to use their own property. FERC has supported pipelines passing through farmland and business properties, even though some businesses have been forced to shut down and farmers have had reduced crop yields, damaging their ability to earn a living from the land, which threatens an occupation that has been a mainstay of American life. Communities that have purchased and protected public parks and forests for their enjoyment and environmental benefit have been forced to stand by as FERC-approved pipelines cut down trees and ram through creeks.
By exposing communities to dangerous chemicals, fracking endangers our homes and schools. And by continuing to expand the use of fossil fuels and fracking infrastructure, as a society, we are telling affected communities they are less important than industry goals. We are prioritizing the business profits of the fracked-gas industries ahead of the safety of us all.
But the cost of continued dependence on fossil fuels is far too great to support any longer.
Earlier this year, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) filed multiple lawsuits against FERC, highlighting its bias, calling for change in its funding structure, and demanding accountability and responsibility in regulation. Congress is not holding FERC accountable for its abuses of law and power, so the people must—and we are seeking to do so through both our advocacy and the enforcement of the law in the courts. Hopefully, some day soon, some real congressional champions who want to advance, protect, and reform will step forward and fight with us for meangingful protection and change.
From PennEast to Atlantic Sunrise, Constitution to Leidy Southeast, new and costly pipelines are snaking through the Delaware River Basin and through our nation at large. However, we have the opportunity to stop this dangerous pattern. By demanding that our government uphold its obligations to protect the people first, enforce the environmental regulations already on the books, and stop the careless ruin of our communities and future. It’s time for FERC to get the message.
Communities that want to learn more and want to reach out to their legislators to advance reform can do so at bit.ly/FERCNeedsInvestigation.
Maya K. van Rossum is the Delaware Riverkeeper, and has led the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) since 1994. The DRN is a regional nonprofit advocacy organization that monitors the river and all of its tributaries for threats and challenges, and that advocates, educates, and litigates for protection, restoration, and change.