Environmental Issues students at the Maine Coast Semester spent a few weeks this semester working on an environmental justice issues unit. Students researched case studies and reported their findings to their classmates, and then they wrote these blog posts in order to spread their learning out to the broader world. Enjoy!
In our Environmental Issues class at Maine Coast Semester at Chewonki, we are learning about different environmental justice issues. We decided to choose the impacts of “fracking” for natural gas and oil. Fracking is a major issue in the United States affecting thousands of people, however, it is crucial to pay attention to the types of people this environmental issue is impacting. The places where hydraulic fracturing occurs are in rural communities that are often considered impoverished by the US standard of poverty. For example, 20% of Californians under the poverty line (700,000) also live within a mile of an oil/natural gas well. Companies take advantage of the residents of these communities by offering them large sums of money to drill on their land. In addition, the drilling creates job opportunities and increased tax revenue, stimulating the local economy.
All these things sound great, however, the companies rarely communicate the negative impacts of fracking. About 600 toxic chemicals and known carcinogens such as benzene, lead, formaldehyde and many more are used in the process of fracking. There have been many cases of these chemicals leaking into water supplies. For example, in Sublette, Wyoming, benzene was detected in the water supply, harming the residents without their knowledge.
More specifically, fracking largely affects communities of Latino and Mexican immigrants in places such as California. The Natural Resources Defense Council states that “These communities (fracking communities), highly vulnerable to additional pollution from oil and gas development, consist primarily of Latinos/Hispanics (69 percent), African Americans (10 percent), and Asian Americans (11 percent). In total, people of color make up 92 percent of the 1.8 million people living within a mile of oil and gas development and in communities already heavily burdened by pollution.”(nrdc.org) The lack of education about fracking, and the language barrier in predominantly Latino immigrant communities, makes it easy for the companies to take advantage of these people because they do not think to ask. When it comes to getting justice, often times it is difficult.
We researched a story about a girl named Johanna living in Shafter, California in Kern County. There are large amounts of drilling sites all around Kern County, especially in Shafter. She began to have seizures and did not know why. One of her young friends even died unexpectedly. They realized that these awful events were most likely linked to poisoning in the water due to chemicals used in fracking. Her father said “They don’t tell us nothing,” he says of the fracking operations. “I understand it’s very complicated, but they should still tell us something. It feels like one person can’t fight with the bigger companies and the oil and the government.” Every person deserves the right to know what toxins are in their water, however, fracking companies are infringing upon this right. It is most likely due to race and socio-economic situation that the fracking companies are able to take advantage of these people expressed by the statistics above from the National Resource Defense Council.
In general, because of the lack of money and access to political power in these fracking communities, justice is often not served. We believe that a change can be made in our country to combat these unethical practices. Since fracking is a newer practice, our country is still trying to figure out how to go about protecting the environment and people. Education about the negative impacts of fracking and advocacy for safe practices will help our country come to a solution. In addition, stopping our reliance on oil and natural gas and moving toward more sustainable renewable energy sources will create a safer future. Below we have attached links with more information about fracking as well as petitions, which you can sign to share your voice! Thank you, and remember – Frack is Wack!
-Molly Patton, Falmouth High School, ME and
Julia Tarnow, Newark Academy, NJ