Fracking in the National Forests

Monday, June 3rd, 2013 (date originally posted)

Last month I joined approximately 40 people from the Piasa Palisades Group of Sierra Club who gathered at CSS to hear Christopher Johnson, an environmental writer from Chicago, speak about hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – in the National Forests.
I attended with a heavy heart because his presentation was to focus on fracking in the Allegheny National Forest in Western Pennsylvania, where I spent many happy hours as a child and where I learned to love the natural world. Until I heard the announcement about Mr. Johnson’s talk, I was too naïve to even realize that fracking was happening on National forest lands. I oppose fracking. I have read many articles about people becoming ill and animals dying from the effects of the process on land and water. I also object to the fact that fracking extends our dependence on fossil fuels (and the companies that extract them) when we should be pursuing the development of renewable energy sources.
Johnson is a co-author with, David Govatski, of Forests for the People: The Story of the American Eastern Forests. After presenting a fascinating history of the development of national forests and the steady encroachment of both logging and drilling, Johnson described their experiences in researching the book.
The authors visited both fracking and surface drilling sites in the Allegheny National Forest, an area where oil companies first began surface extracting operations in the United States. They viewed first-hand the devastation to the land from the processes themselves and from the waste produced, as well as the disruption of habitats cause by cutting roads though the forest and running heavy equipment over the land. Johnson and Govatski documented fracking’s impact on nearby populations and cited numerous scientific reports of chemical pollution to the water table and the dangers of methane gas byproduct in both the atmosphere and ground water.
In visits to national forest fracking sites, the authors, who were accompanied by two representatives from National Sierra Club, experienced heavy-handed security measures. Such measures are apparently pervasive in the area. The sites are heavily guarded by contracted security guards, who do not allow people to take pictures or get too close to operations. Helicopter surveillance was also part of the security effort. Johnson and Govatski left with the impression that the security measures were intended to intimidate observers more than safeguard the premises. One has to wonder whether the oil companies believe their own PR about the safety of the operation when they keep their sites so closely guarded.
Johnson closed out his presentation with comments about the current deliberations in the Illinois Legislature over plans for fracking in Southern Illinois. Much of the Q & A that followed focused on concerns related to local issues. As with most of the push for “development” that devastates our environment, this technology is being sold on the basis of job creation and the economic benefits to localities often experiencing decline or persistent poverty. During the social gathering after the program, the conversation covered the gamut of issues involved in the increase of fracking as a short-term answer to energy needs and job creation without taking into account a longer view of what it does to destroy a way of life for many and eventually our planet itself.