Living in a Landscape of Loss

Pavilion, Wyoming will become the new Chernobylgate. A Superfund Site without boundaries. The tip of the iceberg. I have no intention of living in such a landscape of loss.

Not only was Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox evicted from a pubic hearing in the House of Representatives today, but so was ABC News, and first! On the grounds that they had not acquired prior permission to film the hearing. Land of the Free. The meeting was about the EPA’s preliminary report on water contamination from fracking, and Fox was arrested and removed from our halls of government for “not having the proper credentials.” One lawmaker requested they both be allowed to stay and said the room should be filled to capacity with Americans wanting to cover this hearing. Let’s hope some more media shows up tomorrow.

The EPA has begun trucking water to the small farming community of Pavilion, Wyoming, after concluding that its water is not safe for human consumption. John Fenton, a farmer who lives near Pavilion, and other affected residents were not allowed to attend the “public hearing” either, but the Oil and Gas Industry was well-represented. Fenton told Amy Goodman today, “We were assured over and over that these processes were safe. A lot of people around here have a pro-industry point of view… but things changed rapidly. It’s had huge impacts to our way of life… people coming and going over our property night and day, over 50% devaluation on our property, and … people with unexplainable health conditions, neurological problems, losing their sense of taste and smell, arms and legs going numb… family farming is under attack everywhere, and here we have just one more example of that deterioration of the family unit. The water that comes out of our wells is no longer usable for growing our gardens.”

Local energy company Encana, and the State of Wyoming, insisted all along that there was nothing wrong going on in Pavilion. County and State Inspectors were shown Company tests and assured residents that there was nothing wrong with their water, Fenton said, or claimed that “the water’s always been bad up here,” and even suggested that the residents had contaminated their own water.

“We’re farmers,” he said, “We’re in touch with the land, and we can tell when things change…. We knew that we hadn’t done this.”

Only after they contacted the EPA did they realize they were finally dealing with people who believed their concerns.The EPA found a definite connection between contaminated water and fracking chemicals. Finally! Theo Colborn has been arguing for years for full disclosure of all chemicals used in drilling and fracking, her anguished refrain “because if we don’t know what they are we can’t test for them!” A quiet tragedy under this veil of secrecy has been medical professionals’ compromised ability to treat emergency room victims from the Industry, because they have not known the chemical causes of grave illnesses and injuries, including burns.

At last the EPA has been able to document the connection, and now the EPA is in danger. Real danger, of being swept away by a partisan agenda manipulated by an Industry in which one executive admitted that his company was engaged in a “land-grab.” Josh Fox’s eviction on spurious grounds from a public hearing where he was exercising his First Amendment Right to report on the proceedings is a match to gasoline, as far as I’m concerned. Or, to a faucet in Pavilion, Wyoming. In addition to methane making tapwater flammable, contamination from drilling and fracking includes benzene and other carcinogenic chemicals. The EPA found 50 times the safe level of benzene in Pavilion’s water (though there is no safe level.) And Fox (Josh, not Network) reports that flammable water and high benzene concentrations are happening all over the country, even in Australia. Many states, municipalities, and other countries have legislation either passed or pending to outlaw fracking.

Meanwhile, Colorado has legislation on the table now to make it illegal for counties and towns to pass their own legislation regulating or prohibiting oil and gas development! The Industry has mounted a full-on PR campaign just as the tobacco industry did against the first revelations that smoking causes cancer. That battle was a skirmish in comparison to this one. Smokers, deluded or addicted, still had choices. The individuals, communities, watersheds, cities, vast tracts of land both populated and wild, that are being poisoned by the extractive technology of “clean natural gas” have no choice. The long term impact on groundwater is immeasurable, irreversible, unfixable, and the consequences will be paid for by the citizens who suffer, because the Industry is exempt for every applicable federal protection.

There are thousands of cases in America alone of groundwater contaminated by the chemicals used in drilling and fracking. New examples come to light every day, in local newspapers and independent studies. And it seems like nobody in the media is paying attention to the whole. Nobody but Josh Fox. And now he’s censored.

I am appalled. I am beyond terrified, and I am angry. This has been going on under my nose for a decade; suffering and healing from personal losses, I had my head in the sand. Now the Industry is knocking at my front door, ogling the wild land I moved here for. Our valley is becoming part of a global awakening. What do you think will happen in this valley, across all social spectra, if our water becomes tainted? If our children begin to get sick and die? If our own heads ache, our limbs tremor, our lungs fail? Who do these people think they are, and what do they think we will do?

I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We will arise in angry unity, we will erupt with rage, and we will be too late. We must work together now to understand the hazards that could be thrust upon us before we feel their effects ~ understanding too late to prevent is not a viable option: This is where we live. This is our home. I do not want to find myself living in a landscape of loss. But if I do, like Josh Fox, I will have documented it every step of the way.