On Saturday a couple thousand people headed to Ithaca College for the EPIC No Frack Event - a day-long "teach in" that featured 45 speakers, ten musical groups and six movies. Scientists, activists, lawyers, farmers, economists and frack-activists shared their news and views about everything from community organizing to how the EPA models risk management.
Simona Perry, who studies community sociology, talked about how shale gas drilling is fracturing communities along the Susquehanna River in PA. The first people who suffer the impacts of drilling are those who live in rural communities, she said. That’s because they live right where the gas is being extracted.
In Bradford County, a 45-minute drive from Ithaca, the increasing number of well pads has removed 16,000 acres of land that used to grow crops and timber or provide habitat for wildlife. Another 7500 acres has been cleared for pipelines, access roads and pipe yards, with close to 200 acres converted to gravel quarries.
“By the end of 2011 some 37,000 acres will have been converted to gas use from other land use,” Perry said.
Gas developments have brought many changes to the rural towns in Bradford County, forcing long-time residents to reevaluate what they knew about their local government and their neighbors. “When you can’t drink water from your faucet, it affects your sense of security and trust,” Perry said.
Over the past two years Perry asked dairy and small farmers to document how their lives are changing, through photography and writing. Many people wrote about the quality of life that brought them there: clean water, fresh air, fertile soil and the desire to pass their farms and land on to their children.
Dr. Stephen Penningroth explained that EPA measures risk in terms of both exposure and toxicity. For even the most toxic chemical, if it doesn’t get into the environment there is no exposure; there is no risk, he said.
The problem with risk assessment related to fracking is that many of the chemicals don’t show up on the toxicological screening list – the “priority pollutant list.” Add to that the lack of completed “exposure assessments”, and you end up with a high level of uncertainty. And that means that politics, not science, dictates how environmental risks are managed.
|Warning: Fracking may be hazardous to your health|
The most obvious solution, Penningroth said, is to require that drilling companies inject tracer chemicals into their fracking mixes. He also suggested that communities develop stream monitoring programs.