Up and down the Rockies, in Texas, across much of the northeast, and perhaps soon in your community, engaged citizens are coming together to prevent the harms of rampant gas development.
Last week, I sat with just such a group in Gunnison County, Co., a beautiful place in the mountains that is confronting rapidly expanding drilling and fracking for gas. People took time away from work and family to gather and talk about what to do.
- Fruit growers are concerned that the contaminated waste water from fracking will damage their crops
- Parents worry about the quality of the air and whether Gunnison will become like Farmington, New Mexico and Pinedale, Wyoming – small towns in the west plagued by some of the worst air quality in the nation because of intensive gas production.
- Local business people don’t want to lose the county’s treasured mountains and streams that make Gunnison a recreation destination.
They have good reason to be concerned.
They know about health studies showing toxic contaminants in the air at fracking sites, the reported episodes of chemical poisoning, the flaming water faucets, exploding houses, and fish kills.
They don’t want their community to become like the intensely drilled area to the south, the San Juan Basin, which has been so decimated by gas development that they refer to it as “Frackistan.”
So, in Gunnison County, folks are using all the tools they have: door-to-door canvassing, news media, the internet and social media; lobbying state and federal officials; election campaigns, and lawsuits. They are working on local zoning ordinances to limit where companies can drill, to require setbacks from homes and drinking water supplies, to limit the weight limits on constantly pounding truck traffic, and to ban fracking outright.
Like activists across the country, they are motivated, creative, persistent.
But they are fighting with a half-empty toolbox. In 2005, President Bush, Vice-President Cheney and Congress worked with the oil and gas industry to punch major loopholes into our basic environmental laws that exempt gas development from most federal regulation. The intent was to speed gas development across the country, particularly on the federal public lands but also anywhere else with recoverable gas, and that helped set the stage for an unprecedented and largely unregulated gas boom.
And the industry continues to choke off efforts in Congress to close those loopholes.
That leaves a big job for states and local governments, for environmental and health organizations, and especially for citizens.
The work to clean up the gas industry will be long and hard, starting with educating the public that gas is another dirty fossil fuel, not a clean energy panacea. Earthjustice is working with community groups and conservation organizations in Wyoming and Colorado, in Pennsylvania and New York, and in the nation’s capital, providing legal expertise along with some creative communications.
Check out our website and join our efforts to get gas right.