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Fracking Cases in Pennsylvania Expose the Human Cost of Drilling

Energy

The environmental costs of fracking, from earthquakes to an alarming rise in methane emissions, has been well reported. The human cost of fracking, however, is not heard often enough. In Pennsylvania, two recent cases in Susquehanna County have put the controversial drilling process at the forefront.

As jury selection kicks off in the notorious fracking water contamination case in Dimock against Cabot Oil & Gas Corp, a family of maple syrup farmers in the same northwestern county will potentially lose their trees, and thus their livelihood, to make way for the company's latest fracking pipeline project, the 124-mile Constitution Pipeline.

The federal lawsuit—Scott Ely, et al. v Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation et al.—involves two couples, Scott Ely and Monica Marta-Ely, and Ray and Victoria Hubert, who claim that Cabot Oil & Gas Corp contaminated their water supply during fracking operations near their homes.

Residents in the small village reported health problems with their coffee-colored water, such as rashes, nausea, headaches and dizziness.

"We haven't had clean water since he was in kindergarten," Marta-Ely, pointing to her 13-year-old son Jared at a news conference during a break in jury selection, Reuters reported.

The Dimock case dates back to 2009 when 44 plaintiffs brought a lawsuit against the company. In the five years since initiating litigation, the Elys and Huberts are the only plaintiffs remaining on the case as the vast majority have settled with the company.

Dimock, Pennsylvania, aka the ground zero of fracking contamination in the east coast, was the subject of the Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary Gasland that infamously featured the town's flaming faucets due to its alarming concentrations of methane.

Pointing to court documents, Reuters reported that the trial "will bring light to a state law that assumes that a gas driller is responsible for water well contamination within 1,000 feet of a drilling site that develops within six months of drilling."

According to NPR's StateImpact, Cabot has already accumulated more than 130 drilling violations at its Dimock wells, yet insists that methane migration in Dimock's water is naturally occurring. The company is currently banned from drilling in a 9-mile area of Dimock but is trying to lift the ban, StateImpact noted.

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"The evidence will show that Cabot met or exceeded the applicable standards of care in the drilling and completion of the ... wells," according to court documents seen by Reuters. "Cabot will present evidence that the plaintiff's water is potable."

During the fracking process, massive quantities of water, sand and toxic chemicals are shot into shale formations to release natural gas.

The White House boasts that the boom in "cheap" natural gas has put the country's dependence on foreign oil at a 40-year low and Marcellus Shale that runs beneath most of Pennsylvania is a "key target" for Big Oil and Gas and accounts for nearly 40 percent of U.S. shale gas production.

Roughly 6,000 fracking wells dot Pennsylvania's map and have significantly altered its landscape. Photo credit:
NRDC

Meanwhile, maple syrup farmers in the Susquehanna county will have their maple grove seized due to the construction of the Constitution Pipeline, RT reported.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave notice on Jan. 29 to proceed with tree cutting on the Pennsylvania portion of the pipeline.

RT noted that Cabot Oil is one of the partners of the $875 million pipeline that will take natural gas from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale to New York. The other joint parter is the energy company Williams.

The Holleran family, which has been at the center of this fight, has had their property seized via eminent domain, with neither landowner permission nor previous compensation, their Facebook page says.

According to RT, about 200 maple trees will be cut, or 80 percent of the maple trees on the property.

"The last couple of days, and especially this morning have been emotionally crazy. This is a hard time for my family, and it's taking us a bit to work things out," family spokesperson Megan Holleran wrote on Facebook after FERC's decision.

Construction of the pipeline is currently stalled, as environmental groups and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have successfully blocked the New York portion of the pipe.

However, as lawyer Mike Ewall of Energy Justice Network said, “Constitution Pipeline Company is threatening this family’s livelihood for a pipeline that may never be built. They still don’t have FERC’s permission to construct, yet they bully and intimidate landowners while offering paltry compensation for taking their land.”

Watch the video below to learn more about the case.

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Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

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