by Leah Zerbe, online editor for RodaleNews.com
Lately, I’ve been noticing a new kind of stress on the faces of fellow family farmers in my area. The worried eyes and furrowed brows aren’t the result of low crop yields, predator pressure, high feed prices, or even damaging storms.
Those sorts of farming setbacks, while devastating, can be overcome. But this latest danger is a different story. It threatens to take away the core of what farmers need to survive: their land, their healthy soil.
This stress comes from the threat of their land being taken from them, and it’s testing local farmers’ very way of life. Many farmers are being asked to sacrifice their land for the construction of high-pressure, natural gas pipelines, ones that are often built to export our natural resource to the highest foreign bidder.
You may have heard that New York recently made the move to ban the method of hydraulic fracturing used to harvest natural gas from the state’s shale. The ban is a good thing, given that the polluting practice has most recently been linked to major reproductive problems, such as sunken semen quality, abnormal menstruation, and birth defects. But things, unfortunately, are much different here in Pennsylvania, where news of contamination, undrinkable water, spills, and explosions are commonplace.
The kicker? A recent analysis shows we are on pace to hit peak gas in just six years! Despite this, farmers are being pressured into to giving up their fertile farmland so corporations can construct dangerous pipelines. Family farmers face the threat of a much lower property value, lower crop yields, explosion and contamination risks, the threat of losing their homeowner’s insurance, and so much more.
I’ve been working with many of my concerned farmer neighbors in Schuylkill County over the past few months to stop the proposed Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline. We’ve met with neighbors who’ve said gas surveyors have come onto their land without permission, misled them, and flat-out lied to them. With peak gas right around the corner, are we seriously going to allow gas corporations to take away our rights to clean air, water, and soil—the soil so many in my county rely on to make an honest living?
Compaction from construction alone can be devastating and has been shown to cause dramatic decreases in farm yields. Even worse? Gas companies are allowed to use a lower-quality pipe in more rural, less populated areas. As one of my farming friends likes to say, “I guess my cows and I just aren’t as important as city folk!”
As a farmer myself, I ask you to make it a point in 2015 to help your local farmers if they are dealing with the threat of natural gas pipeline expansions, because the greed is getting out of control:
Here are ways you can help:
- Want to help my neighbors specifically? Show your support by signing this petition: tinyurl.com/NoAtlanticSunrise.
- Gather concerned citizens and show up at township, borough, or city meetings. There, you cannot only get the issue in front of your local lawmakers, but you can meet other movers and shakers.
- Once you get community support and educate your local leaders, push for a township, borough, or city resolution. While such a resolution isn’t legally binding, when gas companies see a string of opposition like this, it could make them think twice about putting a pipeline in.
- Want to REALLY incite change? Look into community rights as a tool to craft ordinances that put the power back at the local government level, not in the hands of corporations wanting to exploit you and your neighbors. Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is the place to get more info on that.
- Be there. Farmers are among the busiest people I know, so fighting huge fossil fuel companies can really stretch families thin. Form a community coalition and delegate tasks and offer up your skills. (Make petitions, create a website, distribute info to neighbors, fundraise, and so on.)
Leah Zerbe is online editor for Rodalenews.com. Prior to working at Rodale, she was the senior online editor at NBCPhiladelphia.com, where she headed up the station’s online “Going Green” initiative, wrote about center-city crime and traffic jams, and blogged about her beloved Philadelphia Phillies. She and her husband run a sustainable organic farm in Schuylkill County, where they grow vegetables, strawberries, herbs, and flowers and raise heritage-breed chickens.