Friday, November 18, 2011

Scientist Devotes Award to Fight Fracking

What does an environmental scholar do with an extra $100,000? If you’re Sandra Steingraber, you dedicate it towards the fight against fracking. 

Steingraber – ecologist, author, and cancer survivor – is one of this year’s winners of the prestigious Heinz Award. She lives modestly, and readily admits that she could certainly use the money to open a college fund for her children, start a retirement account or put the cash towards living expenses while she works on another book. But she’s not going to. Instead, she will devote her award to fighting hydro-fracking here in upstate New York.

This week Steingraber and other cancer survivors and medical sent a letter to Governor Cuomo warning that the rush to issue hydrofracking permits threatens to expose New Yorkers to a host of carcinogens. The state should conduct a full assessment of health risks, they say, instead of negligently exposing NY residents to the same carcinogens that have been identified in communities in other states once gas drilling began.

In Texas, for example, women living in the six counties with intensive gas drilling suffered a significant increase in breast cancer rates while during that same time period breast cancer rates declined across the rest of the state.

“New York State ranks 11th in highest overall annual incidence cancer rate in the United States at 486.2 cancer diagnoses for 100,000 New Yorkers each year – well above the national average of 455.7 (National Cancer Institute, 2011),” the letter reads. “We urge to you to improve this situation rather than risk raising our cancer rank further by allowing a carcinogen-dependent industry into our state.”

Our country’s dependency on fossil fuels, says Steingraber, creates insecurity in the end.  “When we light them on fire, we fill the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases that destabilize the climate and acidify the oceans,” she explains.  “When we use fossil fuels as feedstocks to make materials such as pesticides and solvents, we create toxic substances that trespass into our children’s bodies, raising their risks for cancer, asthma, infertility, and learning disorders.”

Drilling into unconventional fossil fuels – shale gas and shale oil – does little to reduce this insecurity, Steingraber notes. If we put our minds to it, our nation could be running on renewable energy sources within two decades. “But, right now, that is not the trail we are blazing,” she says. “Instead, evermore extreme and toxic methods are being deployed to blast fossilized carbon from the earth. We are blowing up mountains to get at coal, felling boreal forests to get at tar, and siphoning oil from the ocean deep.”
The most ominous technology, she feels, is fracking. It fractures the bedrock, fragments the landscape and divides communities, all in the name of energy security. But real security, Steingraber says, is being able to buy tomatoes, cheese, and peaches at her local farm stand. Real security is being able to drink the water that bubbles up from the aquifer beneath her feet. And that, she says, is worth fighting for.

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