America's Fracking Gold Rush Portends the Greatest Environmental Disaster of a Generation

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Worse, Pennsylvania has opted not to tax fracking ventures, buying the industry's claim that the state is the most expensive area to drill and a tax could make fracking economically unfeasible. As a result, the state has lost more than $300 million in potential revenue — while simultaneously slashing funding for everything from education to hospital trauma centers.

Critics note that Gov. Tom Corbett has received more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions from the gas industry. Rogers says the same has been true in Texas and every other state where fracking has appeared.

"We've been experiencing the shale gas boom since 2005, and we are in horrible shape economically," she says. "Shale gas was supposed to be this economic powerhouse for the next 40 years, they said. It didn't even work out in the past seven. And it's the same story in every other state. Unfortunately, that's just how the game is played."


It's easy to ignore the fallout if you don't live in Dimock, Pennsylvania; or Wise County, Texas. But few parts of America remain untouched.

Though companies aren't drilling in Wisconsin or Minnesota, the industry's effects are certainly being felt. Both states offer rich supplies of fine sand called silica, used in fracking. In the past four years, sand mining in both states has doubled — along with the rates of respiratory problems associated with it. At least nine Minnesota cities have enacted moratoriums on mining, because treatment plants use toxic chemicals, presenting a threat to water supplies.

The U.S. Geological Survey further believes that an uncharacteristic surge of earthquakes throughout the Midwest is "almost certainly" related to gas companies disposing wastewater into deep-injection wells.

In 2008, there were just 29 earthquakes in the Midwest. Three years later, after fracking became widespread, the figure had more than quadrupled to 134. Most of them were clustered close to wells.

After a series of earthquakes occurred earlier this year in Youngstown, Ohio, the state banned gas companies from using deep-injection wells for water disposal.

The problem is that homes outside natural earthquake areas aren't built to withstand even the smallest tremor. Nor do insurers offer earthquake coverage in these regions.

Even the West Coast isn't immune. Since 1924, the Baldwin Hills Oil Field in Los Angeles has been a source of tension between residents and the Plains Exploration and Production Company, which runs the 1,000-acre plot. Last year, the company settled a class-action lawsuit filed by neighbors who claimed that wells contaminated their air and increased the rate of earthquakes.

Now the company, which has largely relied on conventional drilling techniques, plans to frack in the same area. California doesn't regulate or track fracking, giving gas companies free reign to do as they please.


Despite the industry wreaking havoc wherever it goes, America's politicians have decided to look the other way. On June 12, an anonymous source in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration told the New York Times that Cuomo was set to lift the ban in his state, one of the final fracking battlegrounds in the nation. (Cuomo's office did not respond to interview requests.)

Less than an hour south of the New York border, near the town of Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, former residents of the Riverdale Mobile Home Park can be found camping at the edge of Route 220, holding signs that read "Save Riverdale!" and "No Fracking!"

In February, they learned that Richard Leonard, who owns the Riverdale land, had sold it to Aqua America, which supplies fracking companies with water. Residents were ordered to vacate the park by the end of May. Some had lived there for more than 30 years.

In a joint venture with Range Resources, Aqua America plans to spend $12 million turning the land into a pump station, taking 3 million gallons of water a day from the Susquehanna River. Residents have written and called the company but have yet to receive a single response. The only contact they've had was with a Range security guard, who showed up to take photos of them setting up camp outside the trailer park.

Nor has the state been any more receptive. Aqua America just happens to be owned by Nicholas DeBenedictis, former head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources.

"We just want it all to stop," resident Gerlinda Trimble says. Riverdale is located in Lycoming County, home to more than 667 wells, which have been cited for environmental violations 474 times. One toxic spill dumped 13,000 gallons of fracking fluid into a stream. "It's enough now. They've poisoned our land and now they're taking our homes."

Told that Governor Cuomo might lift the moratorium in New York, Trimble simply shakes her head. "I'll pray for them," she says.

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Denise Grollmus
Contact: Denise Grollmus