I tend to be a private person, not a person prone to writing letters to the editor or otherwise making public pronouncements, but a letter to the editor in The Athens NEWS on Thursday, March 8 for some reason struck me as a personal attack.
There is no mistaking my position on fracking (horizontal hydraulic fracturing – hereafter referred to as simply fracking); I am definitely against it. This is based not on some "feelings" but rather on experience, facts and science. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and I hope I can, as dispassionately as possible, dispel some of those myths.
I am not anti-fracking because I don't want my neighbors to make money. I would like nothing better than if everyone could be out of poverty. I am not anti-fracking because I don't own my mineral rights. I do own them on some of my property. I am not anti-fracking because I don't want to improve the economy in Athens County. I just don't want the kind of problems this influx of outsiders (yes, most jobs won't go to local residents; we won't be any different than other states) has brought to other places with an increase in crime, strains on infrastructure, and highly inflated rental amounts that price locals out of the market.
I am anti-fracking because the experiences of other communities where this is happening now, as well as science, have shown that it is dangerous to people, livestock, water supplies and clean air. I am not a rich person; in fact I'm far from it, and struggle with finances like many others. But no amount of money is worth permanently and irreparably destroying our environment and economy.
Here are some of the facts I used to make my decision that refute the misinformation put forth by the letter writer.
1. First, I get rather tired of the assertion that fracking fluid is as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid. The only connection is that benzene, which is used in the manufacture of detergents, is used in fracking fluid. Benzene itself is not an ingredient in dishwashing liquid. It is a colorless, flammable liquid that causes cancer and bone-marrow failure. It is one of more than 750 chemicals that are being used. Some are innocuous, but many are toxic – neurotoxins or carcinogens – and not things I want to take any chance of introducing into the water we drink. They are a small percentage of the fracking fluid, but because of the quantity of fluid used, this can amount to over 100,000 gallons of these chemicals in each well. An article on the ProPublica website will tell you more. (The online version of this Reader's Forum will include the link.)
2. Proponents of fracking would have us believe that this process has been used for years and so we shouldn't worry about it. The problem is that the word has been used for years, although the old technique to which it refers is different. There is vertical fracking as it was done 50 years ago when explosives were used, or vertical fracking before about 1990 when a modest amount of water and maybe some sand were used, and then there is horizontal hydraulic fracking as it is defined today, when millions of gallons of water and a mix of dangerous chemicals are injected into the earth under great pressure. There is no comparison between early fracking, which was also used for water wells, and what we might see in Athens County if this goes ahead.
3. Fracking is well below the aquifer. Yes, I know that these wells will be horizontal and many thousands of feet below the aquifer, but think about it: how are they going to get down there – through the aquifer, of course. In the best of all possible scenarios, that wouldn't be a problem, but things are going wrong. I've seen an estimate that possibly up to 10 percent of wells have some sort of problem with a leaking pipe, failed concrete liner or failed blowout preventer. Once that fracking fluid is in the aquifer, it isn't coming out. Is that a chance we should be taking? Without safe water, no one will be able to live here, no food will be grown, and no livestock will be raised.
And no, I don't hate my neighbors who support fracking. I see my decision to oppose fracking as the opposite of the letter writer. I choose not to sell my mineral rights specifically because I do care about my neighbors, their health and livelihoods, both of which could be destroyed if we let horizontal hydraulic fracking occur here. I wish they were as concerned about me and my family.
Editor's note: Jane Unger gardens at Hoot Owl Hollow Nursery, a botanical garden and bird sanctuary near New Marshfield.