Is Wider Unity on the Shale Issue Possible?

A Stronger Steelworkers’ Voice Is Needed

in the Marcellus Anti-Fracking Movement

A Stronger Steelworkers’ Voice Is Needed

in the Marcellus Shale Anti-Fracking Movement

By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue

There’s a specter haunting Western PA. It’s the prospect of a working class divided by a fear of water pollution destroying the property values of small homeowners on one side, and on the other side, by the promise of new wealth from the exploitation of natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits.

A similar fear divides West Virginians over ‘mountaintop removal’ mining. Little towns are split between those who want food on the table and those fearful of poisoning their children.

Steelworkers can certainly see the problem in our own terms. It takes a lot of steel pipe to drill down two to four miles, then drill out a horizontally for another mile in a dozen directions. The tube mills are getting the orders and steelworkers are back to work. On the other hand, steelworkers know the dangers of poisoning the ground and the rivers better than most.

Everything goes somewhere. When the drillers lace 6,000,000 gallons of water with a ton of poisonous chemical brine, pump it underground to break up shale and release the natural gas, a lot of the water comes back up with the gas. A lot also stays underground. The poisonous brine that comes back up is caught in plastic-lined ponds that often leak. Some is reused, some spilled, some carted away in tankers. Some of the tankers leak or dump the brine along the way. A lot is partially treated by a few water treatment plants. Then it goes into the local rivers heavy with salt. Already the Ohio downstream has growing percentages of toxic brine. To repeat, everything goes somewhere.

Is there a way to protect our jobs in steel and our way of life? I think so. Ban drilling within a specified distance from the Ambridge reservoir and the watershed of Service Creek that feeds it. This is a valuable and irreplaceable source of potable water for 30,000 customers. Similar sources of good water around the state also need protected.

We need a beefed-up DEP/EPA to enforce new and enhanced safety regulations. A third step would be hiring local union labor at all the drilling sites. Local workers have a stake in clean water, and a union worker is more likely to blow a whistle on illegal or dangerous practices.

Naturally, all these cost something. That’s why the crucial first step is a hefty extraction tax. Pennsylvania’s current failure here is an outrage that makes us a laughing stock even among other states where fracking is underway. I would make the tax high enough to make two pots—one to pay for the expenses above, the other for a Green and Clean Energy Fund to finance the transition to renewables. Gas is a bit cleaner than coal, but it’s still a fossil fuel that takes carbon from beneath the earth and puts it in the air. It’s not good for us in the longer run, and we need to start now funding the transition from one to the other.

All these measures are consistent with USW policy, its Blue-Green Alliance and the steelworkers’ overall strategy for a green industrial revolution. A progressive view from the unions needs a louder voice in a broad coalition around the Marcellus shale issue.

7 thoughts on “Is Wider Unity on the Shale Issue Possible?”

  1. History repeats itself when we fail to learn from the past. In the 1960’s a book titled “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson pointed out the ignorance and greed from industry and government in respect to poisoning the general public.Not much changes but the date on the calendar. Here we are again fighting the same battles, trying to keep our families alive and healthy. We as a people will continue to listen to industry false claims through high cost public relations experts. We will be fooled again waiting for the Magic Pill for cancer caused by environmental pollution.The only solution is to stop the carcinogenic poisons at its source and stop this insanity.Do you know anyone who is NOT affected by cancer? You are what you eat, drink, and breathe. The EPA list many toxic carcinogens that are uses in hydraulic fracking that can not be made Non-Toxic. We will eat, breathe , and drink these chemicals just because they will be distributed throughout our environment, either purposly or accidental.Thats why it is so miportant to join up with a marcellus protest group now. Most people have waited until the neighbor drills and you are stuck with all the losses . Be pro-active and find out how to protect your family and property before you get fracked.

  2. Furthermore methane the main component of natural gas is not all that environmentally green. When you consider that some of it must leak into the air from the drilling operation, from the pipeline and from other aspects of the distribution process, burning natural gas may contribute to global warming as much as burning coal. Methane has about 72 times the global warming potential (GWP) as has carbon dioxide: While methane persists in the air for less time than does carbon dioxide, moment for moment and pound for pound methane traps 72 times as much globe warming radiation as does carbon dioxide.

  3. The way forward is NOT accomodation to the corporate poison…or the well financed energy industry politicians and their apologists. The way forward is to work community by community to ban all hydraulic fracturing. In time, the groundswell of
    opposition will bear results. Through grassroots persistence, Pittsburgh passed a complete ban on gas drilling. Stop looking for compromises that you’ll later regret.

  4. Why stop with fracking? You might as well call for a ban on the production of coal, steel and computer chips–all of which involve and produce poisons.

    To move from one order to another, in most cases, you need transitional plans. Otherwise, you never get the allies and strength you need.

    In this case, we can start demanding a zoning restriction on any drilling within a mile or so of the Ambridge reservoir and its Service Creek tributaries. Even that is going to take a while to put some heat on local politicians.

  5. I agree that banning poisons is not an absolute. After all we as living organisms produce poisons. That poison has to go somewhere as we get rid of it. Does that mean we should get rid of people too? Instead we work to manage the situation.

    Since methane has many times the warming potential of carbon dioxide we should look very carefully at reducing methane’s leakage into the atmosphere. We need to find and implement alternatives that are less globally warming if and when we can. We may not be able to do that immediately but we can hope with good reason that an active search will produce more suitable alternatives.

    By the way methane gets into the air during mountain top removal coal mining and in substantial quantities too. Getting rid of mountain top mining (where we can) could be a good start.

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