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Sandra Steingraber's Manifesto: Illinois Fracking Rules a Betrayal of Democracy and Science
By Jeff Biggers
A new salvo has been fired in the national battle against fracking.
Within hours of the Illinois General Assembly's vote on its controversial bill on hydraulic fracking last Friday night, the Associated Press's headline rippled across nationwide newspapers: "Illinois lawmakers approve nation's toughest fracking regulations."
Not so fast, says Dr. Sandra Steingraber, the renowned scientist whom Rolling Stone has called the "toxic avenger." She returned to her native Illinois last week to join a growing citizens uprising against gas drilling and sand mining operations she defines as "an accident-prone, inherently dangerous industrial process with risks that include catastrophic and irremediable damage to our health and environment."
With New York readying to rescind or keep in place that state's temporary moratorium, and high stakes battles taking place across the nation about whether to regulate fracking or place moratoriums on it, Steingraber and a network of citizen groups have viewed Illinois as the staging ground for a fracking rush that will have an extraordinary ripple effect.
Once hailed by the Sierra Club as the "new Rachel Carson," Steingraber denounced Illinois’s bill as "the result of closed-door negotiations between industry representatives and compromise-oriented environmental organizations." She testified in front of a last minute committee hearing of the Illinois House of Representatives, protested with sit-in activists, met with bill negotiators and was even tossed out of the Illinois General Assembly for speaking out.
With Gov. Pat Quinn's signature imminent, Business Insider gushed that Illinois “could become the epicenter of America's next oil boom."
Not under their watch, says Steingraber and the Illinois anti-fracking shock troops.
Issuing a Fracking Manifesto, she has thrown down the gauntlet on Illinois' regulatory fallout as a cautionary tale for citizens groups, environmental organizations and frackers across the nation.
"We call for a mobilization that brings fracking realities to the rest of the nation," the manifesto declares. "If our elected officials refuse to visit the fracking fields, then we will bring the fracking fields to them—in the form of science, stories, photographs, film, lectures, hearings and journalism. If elected officials refuse to defend our land, water, air and health against those who would despoil them for their own profit, then we will do it ourselves, using peaceful, non-violent methods."
A Fracking Manifesto: From Sandra Steingraber and the People of Illinois to the Nation
We know that high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracking, or HVHF, is an accident-prone, inherently dangerous industrial process with risks that include catastrophic and irremediable damage to our health and environment.
We know that HVHF and its attendant technologies:
- contribute to groundwater contamination, including 219 cases in Pennsylvania alone;
- turn massive amounts of fresh, drinkable water into massive amounts of briny, poisonous flowback fluid for which there is no fail-safe disposal solution;
- vent hazardous air pollutants that are associated with cancer, asthma, heart attack, stroke and preterm birth;
- release radioactive substances—including radon, which is the number two cause of lung cancer—and benzene, which is a proven cause of leukemia—from deep geological strata;
- fragment forests in ways that decimate birds and wildlife, sabotage natural flood control systems, and pour sediment into rivers and streams;
- industrialize communities in ways that vastly increase truck traffic, noise pollution, light pollution, stress, crime and the need for emergency services;
- offer jobs that are dangerous, toxic and temporary, with a fatality rate seven times that of other industries; and
- leak prodigious amounts of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas.
We know these problems cannot be prevented by any set of rules or government office, let alone state agencies like those in Illinois, which have been cut to the bone by budget cuts and cannot be counted on for regulatory enforcement.
We have heard the warnings of our brothers and sisters living in the gas fields of Pennsylvania and Ohio, whose children, pets and livestock are sick, whose property values are ruined, whose water is undrinkable.
We have heard the pleas of our neighbors in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, where strip-mining for “frac-sand” has devastated communities, destroyed landscapes and filled the air with carcinogenic silica dust. We are aware that our own beloved Starved Rock State Park is already threatened by industrial mining of silica sand used for fracking operations and that the pressure to strip-mine Illinois for sand will only increase with every well that is drilled and fracked.
We assert that fracking is a moral crisis. In a time of climate emergency, it is wrong to further deepen our dependency on fossil fuels. In a state such as Illinois, where chronic drought and water shortages are already forecast for our children’s future, it is wrong to destroy fresh water resources in order to bring new sources of climate-killing gas and oil out of the ground.
We reject the legitimacy of Illinois’ fracking regulatory bill, which was the result of closed-door negotiations between industry representatives and compromise-oriented environmental organizations. Responsible only to their funders and their members, these environmental groups do not represent us nor are they empowered to negotiate on our behalf. We consider the fracking regulatory bill to be a subversion of both science and democracy. Throughout its creation, no comprehensive health study or environmental impact study was ever commissioned. No public hearings or public comment periods ever took place. And yet it is the public that is being compelled to live with the risks sanctioned by this bill. It is an unjust law.
Knowing that our own government has abdicated its responsibility to protect the safety and well-being of the citizenry, knowing that no one is coming to save us, we declare our intent to save ourselves from the ravages of shale gas and oil extraction via HVHF. We declare our intent to join together in a fracking abolitionist movement.
As such, no longer shall national environmental organizations based far from impacted realities make decisions that will have life-changing impacts on the people living in impacted zones. We will call out organizations that betray core values and integrity. We will openly inform their membership and their funders and reveal the truth of where they stand and at whose expense.
We call for a mobilization that brings fracking realities to the rest of the nation. If our elected officials refuse to visit the fracking fields, then we will bring the fracking fields to them—in the form of science, stories, photographs, film, lectures, hearings and journalism. If elected officials refuse to defend our land, water, air and health against those who would despoil them for their own profit, then we will do it ourselves, using peaceful, nonviolent methods.
We hereby commit ourselves to building a powerful movement that will protect Illinois’s children—and safeguard the living ecosystem on which their lives depend—for generations to come. In short, we declare our intent to take the future into our hands. And that future is unfractured.
Sign on and join our movement.
Dr. Sandra Steingraber
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
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