[Editor's note: Today, Sandra Steingraber—Illinois native, biologist and acclaimed environmental advocate—and Jeff Biggers—Southern Illinois native and author—will be in Springfield, IL at 1 p.m. today, Wednesday, May 29, for a day of advocacy. They will meet outside Gov. Quinn’s office at the Capitol Building. Stay tuned to EcoWatch for post coverage.]
The world is not just watching the fracking bill debacle unfold at the Illinois state capitol.
As the Illinois General Assembly votes this week on the state's increasingly suspect fracking bill, residents affected by similar operations in Pennsylvania and frac-sand mining in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota took the extraordinary step today of releasing unprecedented letters warning of a "public health disaster" in the making, and called on Illinois lawmakers to set aside the flawed bill and "swiftly enact a moratorium."
"We have learned the hard way that regulations—no matter how strict they sound on paper—do not provide adequate protection to human health or property, especially in tough economic times when the state agencies charged with enforcing the regulations are understaffed and underfunded," states the letter signed by impacted Pennsylvania residents, released publicly this morning, along with links to a eye-opening List of the Harmed health registry of fracking-related afflictions.
As a powerful response to last week's House Executive Committee hearing on fracking bill SB 1715, where every member on the committee made the breathtaking admission of having never visited a fracking site, the letter challenges exaggerated promises of jobs and revenue, and provides a firsthand look at the growing health, workplace and environmental costs of Pennsylvania communities "transformed into toxic industrial zones" over the past five years.
Speaking on behalf of "communities situated atop vast deposits of silica sand, which are a necessary ingredient in the fracking process," neighboring residents in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota also underscored the need for Illinois lawmakers to reconsider the rushed fracking bill in their separate letter:
We are suffering greatly from the industrial strip-mining and processing of silica sand that has been the direct consequence of the ongoing shale gas boom in this nation. Our communities, our land, and our health are in the process of being literally destroyed by it. We beg you to declare a moratorium on fracking in Illinois, as we are sure that, should you move forward with this regulatory bill and open your state to large-scale fracking, the demand for frac-sand will increase further, along with the price—and thus along with the pressure on our own political leaders to escalate further the devastating practice of frac sand mining and processing.
Key themes: Recklessness and liability.
Especially for Illinois Gov. Quinn and Attorney General Madigan, whose apparent backroom brokering of the fracking regulation bill without scientists or health expert involvement has already triggered statewide outrage and placed the controversial issue of fracking into next year's gubernatorial race—just in time for cash-strapped counties to struggle "with infrastructure maintenance, much less improvements, expansions or hirings needed for schools and services once drillers and others associated with fracking start moving in," according to a recent Chicago Tribune review of fracking tax gain.
Illinois, as the Pennsylvania residents note, is not alone in taking the fracking leap. But given its longer rap sheet, a recent Pennsylvania poll showed overwhelming support for a moratorium. New York awaits a decision, as well.
"A well may end up being poisoned a year from now—and then what?" Gov. Cuomo (D-NY) told reporters last month, as he awaits a state health assessment on fracking. "I don't want the liability, frankly, and I don't have the knowledge."
In an editorial on Sunday, the L.A. Times scolded Gov. Brown's (D-CA) administration and handed over their support for a fracking moratorium as "the prudent course."
That same message was echoed by the Albany Times Union two months ago: "Whether you feel that natural gas fracking is the economic salvation of New York or an environmental disaster waiting to happen, there is one indisputable fact about it: The science is not in. Not by a long shot. And that's why a moratorium in New York makes sense."
Admonishing Illinois lawmakers to "enact a moratorium in order to take the time to visit areas with fracking, bring scientists and medical experts into the process, and undertake an environmental and public health study," the besieged Pennsylvania residents didn't pull any punches on their warnings: "If you allow fracking to go forward as planned, you will bring to your state the same horrific experiences we have suffered in Pennsylvania.
The full letter is below.
May 28, 2013
Illinois General Assembly Governor Pat Quinn Attorney General Lisa Madigan State House Springfield, IL 62706
Dear Governor Quinn, Attorney General Madigan, and Members of the Illinois General Assembly,
We write today to urge you not to allow high-volume horizontal fracturing ('fracking') for oil and gas in Illinois. We, the undersigned residents of Pennsylvania, are among the many victims of fracking. Informed by extensive first-hand experience with the oil and gas industry and suffering from the impacts of fracking, we implore you with the greatest sincerity to protect the health and safety of the people of Illinois and swiftly enact a moratorium on fracking. We have learned the hard way that regulations--no matter how strict they sound on paper--do not provide adequate protection to human health or property, especially in tough economic times when the state agencies charged with enforcing the regulations are understaffed and underfunded. Also, regulations cannot prevent accidents, and this is an industry prone to accidents of an especially frightening nature and whose effects are not temporary.
The oil and gas industry promises that fracking is safe and that it will create jobs and bring your state riches, but Pennsylvania's experience in the past five years tells a very different story. In short, water contamination has been widespread; our air has been polluted; countless individuals and families have been sickened; farms have been devastated, cattle have died, and our pristine streams and rivers have turned up dead fish; only a fraction of the promised jobs and revenue for the state have come to fruition; and our communities have been transformed into toxic industrial zones with 24/7 noise, flares, thousands of trucks, and increased crime. What's more, the jobs have made many workers so sick that they can no longer work in the industry.
A week ago, the Scranton Times-Tribune revealed that oil and gas development from fracking damaged the water supplies of at least 161 Pennsylvania homes, farms, churches and businesses between 2008 and the fall of 2012, as indicated by state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) records. The Times-Tribune notes that this number is not comprehensive; an exhaustive analysis was made impossible by DEP's lack of transparency, poor record keeping, potentially inadequate testing procedures, and lack of cooperation with the investigation. Regardless, with around 4,000 wells drilled during that four-year timespan, these 161 cases show how common and extensive water contamination is from fracking operations. These numbers are not surprising given the high rate of well casing failures. By the gas industry and the DEP's own data, well casing failure rate in Pennsylvania is 6.2 percent (rising to 8.9 percent in 2012). Failures occur when the layers of cement and steel that encase the well—providing a barrier between the toxic fracking fluid and freshwater aquifers—are damaged or become corroded. Even with the most careful workmanship cement can shrink, crumble and crack as it ages.
Because the chemicals used in fracking operations are highly toxic, water contamination is a very serious problem. Although the industry blocks attempts to know what chemicals and combinations are used, we know that it is a cocktail whose ingredients are selected from a possible menu of around 600 chemicals. Those include many known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. They include chemicals such as benzene, toluene, hydrochloric acid and petroleum distillates. In addition to the chemicals used by the industry, the operation releases many hazardous materials from the shale itself, including radium, uranium and radon, arsenic, and mercury. Cows that have consumed water contaminated with used fracking fluid (flowback waste) have quickly died, and land where it has spilled has been scorched.
For us, fracking has been a public health disaster. Victims experience symptoms ranging from headaches, dizziness, burning eyes, sore throats, rashes, hair loss, severe nose bleeds, nausea, blood poisoning, liver damage, intestinal pain, neurological damage, cancers and many more. Many fracking victims who have suffered these health symptoms sign legal agreements that force them to forfeit all rights to speak about what has happened to them in order to settle with multi-national oil and gas corporations. Although many cases have been hidden from the public eye through these non-disclosure agreements, we have compiled a 'List of the Harmed' that now well exceeds 1,000. Our efforts to create this lay registry of healthy problems in an attempt to compensate for the legally enforced silence of our medical community. After extensive lobbying by the oil and gas industry, the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed Act 13, which, among other things, places a gag order on doctors who deal with victims of fracking and who wish information about the possible chemicals to which their patient may have been exposed.
The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (an initiative of medical experts) is working with Pennsylvanians affected by fracking and has concluded that health impacts are serious and that we still do not have enough scientific data to make an informed decision or to be able to claim that ANY regulations will protect public health.
One major, uncontrollable problem is hazardous air pollutants, which are emitted from wellheads themselves, as well as from flares, dehydration devices, compressor stations, and the thousands of diesel trucks that are needed to service each well. Silica dust—a known cause of lung cancer and silicosis—is also a problem in an around drilling and fracking operations. We live with the knowledge that our children are breathing in hazardous air, and are left to wonder what and how severe the ramifications will be in their future.
Our environment has been transformed seemingly overnight from beautiful countryside and farms into toxic, heavy industrial zones. Commutes that used to take 30 minutes now take two hours because of the truck traffic. Many of our schools and playgrounds are blanketed in carcinogenic silica dust. Towering flares light up the night sky, while health-damaging levels of noise penetrate our homes 24/7. Only a small fraction of the promised jobs and revenue have materialized, with most jobs going to out-of-state workers and most revenue accruing to a only few individuals. Meanwhile the community has had to pay for road and bridge damage, increased accidents and need for more emergency workers, and we've had to live with increased crime rates.
In addition to the water contamination, air pollution, industrialized communities, increased crime rates and ruined farms, we've also experienced countless spills, blowouts and disasters. Communities have been evacuated because of explosions and uncontrolled leaks and fires.
As we have experienced the horrors of fracking firsthand for years, we have also carefully followed the industry in other parts of the country and watched the science that has emerged. We have followed what is happening in Illinois with great dismay. We are certain that your proposed regulations will not protect the health of Illinois residents, your farms, communities, environment, and everything that makes Illinois special. Please, do not make this mistake.
If you allow fracking to go forward as planned, you will bring to your state the same horrific experiences we have suffered in Pennsylvania. The oil and gas industry cannot and must not be trusted. We implore you to enact a moratorium in order to take the time to visit areas with fracking, bring scientists and medical experts into the process, and undertake an environmental and public health study. This is the only responsible course of action, and far too much is at risk to do otherwise. We would be glad to speak with you, and we invite you to our homes and communities to see fracking and its impacts first-hand.
Speaking on behalf of a broad network of communities, sincerely,
Ron Gulla, Hickory, PA
Adam Headley, Smithfield, PA
David Headley, Smithfield, PA
Grant Headley, Smithfield, PA
Linda Headley, Smithfield, PA
Ray Kemble, Dimock, PA
Jenny Lisak, Punxsutawney, PA
Matt Manning, Montrose, PA
Tammy Manning, Montrose, PA
Randy Moyer, Portage, PA
Vera Scroggins, Silver Lake Township, PA
Craig L. Stevens, Silver Lake Township, PA
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
In celebration of Earth Day, a star-studded cast is giving fans a rare glimpse into the secret lives of some of the planet's most majestic animals: whales. In "Secrets of the Whales," a four-part documentary series by renowned National Geographic Photographer and Explorer Brian Skerry and Executive Producer James Cameron, viewers plunge deep into the lives and worlds of five different whale species.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b102b19b2719f50272ab718c44703dd0"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/xOySOlB78dM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Herring are a primary food source for Norway's orcas. Luis Lamar / National Geographic for Disney+
Belugas are extremely social creatures with a varied vocal range. Peter Kragh / National Geographic for Disney+
A Southern Right whales is pictured in the accompanying book, "Secrets of the Whales." Brian Skerry / National Geographic
The coronavirus has isolated many of us in our homes this year. We've been forced to slow down a little, maybe looking out our windows, becoming more in tune with the rhythms of our yards. Perhaps we've begun to notice more, like the birds hopping around in the bushes out back, wondering (maybe for the first time) what they are.
A Coeligena helianthea hummingbird is photographed during a birdwatching trail at the Monserrate hill in Bogota on November 11, 2020. Colombia is the country with the largest bird diversity in the world, home to about 1,934 different bird species, a fifth of the total known. JUAN BARRETO / AFP / Getty Images
1. Choosing the Right Binoculars<p>Binoculars are a relatively indispensable tool for most birders – but, for those just starting out, it might not yet be worth the several-hundred-dollar investment. If you aren't able to scour the attics of friends or borrow a pair from a fellow bird watcher, some local birding and naturalist groups have <a href="https://vashonaudubon.org/all-about-vashon-birds/binoculars-check-out/" target="_blank">binocular loaning programs</a> for members, allowing you to plan ahead for a day (or week) of birding.</p><p>When you're ready to take the plunge, choosing a pair or binoculars should take some careful deliberation based on your needs and preferences; some <a href="https://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/explore/optics/top-10-tips-buying-binoculars-bird-watching.php" target="_blank">major considerations</a> might include size, ease of use, <a href="https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/binoculars.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">magnification</a>, and price. While professional binoculars can easily run north of $1,000, there are plenty of perfectly suitable entry-level binoculars under $200. You might not get the perfect precision and clarity of more elite models, but a less expensive pair will allow you to strengthen your birding skills while deciding if you're interested in investing in a premium pair.</p><p>For a budget-friendly option, check out resale options on eBay, Facebook marketplace, or neighborhood yard sales: you might find a nicer pair whose retail price isn't within your budget.</p>
2. Know What Birds Are in Your Area<p>When I began to pay more attention to the birds just outside my apartment building, I started to learn what species have always been around me: European starlings, house sparrows, blue jays, black capped chickadees, and the occasional red-bellied woodpecker. They had always been there, but I hadn't ever taken the time to identify them. Once you learn to <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/get-know-these-20-common-birds_" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recognize common birds</a> in your area, you'll be able to identify the typical species right outside your window and in your community. Of course, permanent residential birds in your neighborhood will <a href="https://nestwatch.org/learn/focal-species/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vary by region</a>, as will those migrating through it.</p>
3. Get Out and Explore<p>Venturing elsewhere might allow you to spot some different species beyond those frequenting your backyard. Anywhere with water or greenery offers a place for birding; as an urbanite myself, I've found that even small- and mid-sized parks in New York City allow me to find more elusive birds (although Central Park takes the crown for an afternoon of urban birding).</p><p>If you are able to travel a bit further from home, <a href="https://www.fws.gov/refuges/" target="_blank">national wildlife refuges</a> and <a href="https://www.americasstateparks.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">state/national parks</a> are excellent places to explore bird habitats and perhaps log some less-common sightings. The American Birding Association also lists <a href="https://www.aba.org/aba-area-birding-trails/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">birding trails by state</a>, and Audubon and BirdLife International identify <a href="https://www.audubon.org/important-bird-areas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Important Bird Areas (IBAs)</a> across the country – important bird habitats and iconic places that activists are fighting to protect – where birders can spot birds of significance.</p>
4. Finding a Bird: Stop, Look, Listen, Repeat<p>The National Audubon Society recommends the "<a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-find-bird" target="_blank">stop, look, listen, repeat</a>" mantra when seeking and identifying birds.</p><p>First and foremost, spotting birds requires attention. Stopping – getting out of the car, pausing on the sidewalk, trail, or in the backyard to look up – is the most important step.</p><p>When looking for birds, try to avoid gazing wildly around; rather, scan your surroundings, focusing on any odd shapes or shadows, trying to think about where a bird might perch (power lines, fence posts, branches), or keep an eye on the sky for flying eagles and hawks. In open areas like fields and beaches, you might have a more panoramic view, and can take in different sections of the landscape at a time. Look around with the naked eye before reaching for the binoculars to hone in.</p><p>While it can be hard to sift through the noise, listening for birds is perhaps an even more important element of bird watching than looking. Once you spend more time in the field, you'll be able to parse apart the racket and identify specific species, especially aided by Audubon's Bird Guide app or by learning from their <a href="https://www.audubon.org/section/birding-ear" target="_blank">Birding by Ear series</a>.</p><p>Repeat this pattern as you continue on your way, stopping to look and listen for birds as you go, rather than waiting for them to come to you. </p>
5. Identification<p>When you head out for a day of bird watching – especially when you're hoping to spot some new species – you'll want to be armed with the tools to identify what you see. <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-identify-birds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Major considerations when identifying birds</a> are their group (such as owls, hawks, or sparrow-like birds), size and shape, behavior, voice, field marks, season, and habitat.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.sibleyguides.com/about/the-sibley-guide-to-birds/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sibley Guide to Birds</a> and the <a href="https://www.hmhbooks.com/shop/books/peterson-field-guide-to-birds-of-north-america-second-edition/9781328771445" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Peterson Field Guide</a> are widely considered the best books for identifying birds in North America, although many <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/what-bird-guide-best-you" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">specialized guides</a> focus on specific species or regions as well.</p><p>Plenty of <a href="https://blog.nature.org/science/2013/05/27/boucher-bird-blog-apps-smart-birder/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bird identification apps</a> have popped up in recent years – including National Geographic Birds, Sibley eGuide to Birds, iNaturalist, Merlin Bird ID, and Birdsnap – which are basically a <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/the-best-birding-apps-and-field-guides" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">field guide in your pocket</a>. I'm partial to the Audubon Bird Guide, which allows users to filter by common identifiers, including a bird's habitat, color, activity, tail shape, and general type, adding them all to a personal map to view your sightings.</p>
6. Recording Your Sightings<p><span>As you deepen your commitment to birding, you might join the community of birders that track and quantify their sightings, building their </span><a href="https://www.thespruce.com/what-birds-count-on-a-life-list-386704#:~:text=A%20life%20list%20is%20a,which%20birds%20you%20have%20seen." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">life list</a><span>.</span></p><p>While a standard notebook noting the date, species name, habitat, vocalizations, or any other data you wish to include will suffice, some birders opt for a more <a href="https://www.riteintherain.com/no-195-birders-journal" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">structured birder's journal</a> with pre-determined fields to record your encounters, take notes, draw sketches, etc.</p><p>Many birders also choose to record their sightings online and in shared databases (which include many of the field guide apps), often pinpointing them on a map for others to view. Launched by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, <a href="https://ebird.org/home" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eBird is one of the largest databases and citizen science projects around birding</a>, where hundreds of thousands of birders enter their sightings, and users can explore birds in regions and hotspots around the world. Users can also record their sightings on the <a href="https://apps.apple.com/us/app/ebird/id988799279" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eBird app</a>.</p>
7. Attracting Birds to Your Own Yard<p>Feeding birds is a common phenomenon: more than 40% of Americans maintain a birdfeeder to attract birds and watch them feast.</p><p>Not all birdfeed is created equal, however. Many commercial varieties are mostly made with "fillers" (oats, red millet, etc.) that birds will largely leave untouched. After researching what birds to expect in your area – and which ones you want to attract – you can create your own birdfeed with <a href="https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/types-of-bird-seed-a-quick-guide/?pid=1142" target="_blank">seeds that will appeal to them</a>.</p><p>Beyond filling a birdfeeder, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/eco-friendly-lawn-2651194858.html" target="_self">transforming your yard into an eco-friendly oasis</a> is by far the best way to attract birds. Choosing to forgo mowing your lawn, planting native flowers and grasses, and ditching the pesticides will bring back the bugs that birds feed on, and provide a safe haven in which birds can happily live and eat.</p><p>While it's widely considered acceptable – and even beneficial – to feed birds with appropriate seeds, communal birdfeeders often <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/to-feed-or-not-feed" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">foster unlikely interactions between different species</a>, who can then transmit harmful diseases and parasites to one another. Maintaining several bird feeders with different types of seeds might keep different species from coming into contact, and feeders can be <a href="https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/how-to-clean-your-bird-feeder/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cleaned to prevent the spread of infection</a>.</p>
8. Inclusivity and Anti-Racism in the Birding Community<p>Like all outdoor activities and areas of scientific study, birding communities are subject to racist and discriminatory ideologies. Black birders have long experienced discrimination and underrepresentation in outdoor spaces. The work of organizations like the <a href="https://www.instagram.com/birdersfund/" target="_blank">Black & Latinx Birders Fund</a>, <a href="https://www.instagram.com/birdability/" target="_blank">Birdability</a>, and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/feministbirdclub/" target="_blank">Feminist Bird Club</a> highlight the contributions and importance of birders of color, birders with disabilities, and women and LGBTQ+ birders to the birding community, as do activists and naturalists like <a href="https://www.instagram.com/hood__naturalist/" target="_blank">Corina Newsome</a> and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/tykeejames/" target="_blank">Tykee James</a>. The work of <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/its-bird-new-comic-written-central-park-birder-christian-cooper" target="_blank">Christian Cooper</a>, <a href="https://camilledungy.com/publications/" target="_blank">Camille Dungy</a> (read her poem <a href="https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/58363/frequently-asked-questions-10" target="_blank">Frequently Asked Questions: 10</a>), and <a href="https://orionmagazine.org/article/9-rules-for-the-black-birdwatcher/" target="_blank">J. Drew Lanham</a> – including his essay "<a href="https://lithub.com/birding-while-black/" target="_blank">Birding While Black</a>" – are a great place to start.</p><p>Getting involved in birding means educating ourselves on these issues and taking meaningful action; the work of <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/its-bird-new-comic-written-central-park-birder-christian-cooper" target="_blank">Christian Cooper</a> and <a href="https://orionmagazine.org/article/9-rules-for-the-black-birdwatcher/" target="_blank">J. Drew Lanham</a> – including his essay "<a href="https://lithub.com/birding-while-black/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Birding While Black</a>" – are a great place to start. Just as birders are activists for protecting habitats and natural areas, we must also be active and aware of inclusivity in these spaces.</p>
9. Get Involved<p>To learn from and enjoy the company of other birders, check out local birding groups in your area to join. Many Audubon chapters host trips, meetings, and bird walks for members. The American Birding Association even maintains a <a href="https://www.aba.org/festivals-events/" target="_blank">directory of birding festivals</a> across the country.</p><p>Volunteering for birds is also a great way to meet other birders and take action for birds in your community; local organizations might have opportunities for assisting with habitat restoration or helping at birding centers.</p><p>Like all wildlife, climate change and habitat destruction threaten the livelihood of birds, eliminating their breeding grounds and food sources. A <a href="https://www.audubon.org/climate/survivalbydegrees" target="_blank">2019 report released by the National Audubon Society</a> found that two-thirds of North American birds may face extinction if global temperatures rise 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Staying informed about and taking action for legislation designed to protect birds and our climate – such as the recent <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5552/text" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Migratory Bird Protection Act</a> – is important for ensuring a livable future for wildlife and humans alike.</p><p><em>Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC. </em><em>Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.</em></p>
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