Fracking a wrong way to go

In his second inaugural address, President Obama was right to urge us to get on “the path towards sustainable energy.”

There should be no fracking along that path.

Fracking is the process of injecting water at high pressure into rock formations in the Earth to create cracks so as to get at the oil or gas beneath.

In the recently released movie “Promised Land,” Matt Damon portrays a corporate representative who buys up property in a small Pennsylvania town to begin gas and oil drilling. It’s 10 minutes into the movie before an elderly resident challenges Damon that what he really wants to do is called “fracking.”

“Sir,” Damon shoots back, “that’s a scare word used by environmentalists.” But fracking is a health and safety hazard — scary indeed.

The story of a small township that must vote on a fracking ordinance, “Promised Land” is admirable for calling attention to an issue faced by poor and rural communities across America after drilling company representatives identify mineral-rich local land deposits.

Corporate representatives have huge monetary resources to influence state and local politicians, to pay enormous sums to property owners, and to make promises of increased tax revenues to enhance the blighted community’s general prosperity.

But the pact is Faustian.

Fracking endangers local water supplies and ecosystems by propelling millions of gallons of water, containing many toxic chemicals, into the Earth. Fracking can lead to mercury, lead and methane pollution and increase the risks of cancer.

The pictures of dead farm animals featured in “Promised Land” are not exaggerations. Farmers have reported strange illnesses and deaths among domestic animals where fracking has occurred.

Fracking is poorly regulated, both at the federal and the state levels. And at the local level, it can be difficult to put fracking to a vote, despite the depiction in “Promised Land”. Only by a lengthy and rigorous process of organizing and petitioning have local municipalities passed fracking bans or moratoriums.

But it can be done, even statewide. Look at Vermont. Last May, the governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, with popular backing, signed a state law banning fracking.

We should follow Vermont’s example and petition for statewide fracking bans.

That will help put us on the sustainable path.

Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a poet and social critic living in Santa Fe, N.M. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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