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Fighting fracking: introverts edition

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

One of the biggest threats fracking poses to the environment is the way it endangers the water supply. It does so in several ways, one of which has large-scale implications. Global impact like that is a little unusual; environmental issues are more likely to be local. Whether it’s fracking, lead paint/asbestos in old buildings, or a Superfund site, once you get a few miles away from it the greatest hazard is usually mitigated.

Fracking permanently removes water from the hydrological cycle, though, at which point it may as well be on the far side of the moon for as much use as it is. This goes beyond competition for scarce resources during a dry season, though the oil and gas industry is well positioned to elbow everyone else aside (via) if it comes to that. It is about the slow draining of the amount of water available for human use.

There are still the usual local concerns, though. Since fracking is exempt from the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act due to the Halliburton loophole, communities are left to do the work that the EPA is theoretically in charge of. I suppose an open abdication of responsibility – thanks, Dick Cheney! – is better than maintaining the charade that a worthless regulator is ostensibly on the case. Either way, though, there is no cop on the beat.

While the industry is supposed to provide an adequate amount of transparency (speaking of charades), there is no substitute for a little local activism. Much of the posting I’ve done on fracking so far has focused on more public and contentious settings. Going to a council meeting to encourage representatives to be responsive to public sentiment, or going to an industry sponsored dog and pony show to to provide a little push back – those can be fairly high profile and emotionally charged settings. Not everyone is up for that.

For those who oppose fracking but are deeply reluctant to put themselves in a potentially confrontational situation, there are other options. Like getting over their reticence. Do you think any of us LIKE doing that, for God’s sake? No normal person wants to pick a fight. Those of us who have spoken out so far have done so because we sincerely believe our quality of life, and perhaps even our ability to live in our communities, may be threatened. We feel like the industry has backed us into a corner and that we have no choice but to fight back. I can’t speak for any of my fellow activists, but I for one would rather be playing Portal 2.

There are other ways to get involved, however, and the Sierra Club has one that is perfect for any able-bodied individual who needs quieter options. Called the Water Sentinels program, the group makes simple water testing kits available to those who want to monitor the quality of their systems. The idea is simple: record some basic metrics about your water supply – or any nearby source – as a base line, then follow up every month or two with additional tests. Increase the frequency of the testing if fracking (or some other potentially significant event) occurs.

Here are stories about the testing being done in Colorado, Illinois and Ohio. I accompanied an activist on a recent test, and there really wasn’t much to it at all. Here is what the measuring instrument looks like:

Take it and a glass jar to a water supply, then fill the jar:

Use the instrument to measure the basic water quality:

Then record the numbers:

The power of this is not in a single test, though. It’s in the accumulation of tests, with the eventual creation of a database in mind. If enough people in enough areas are able to do this kind of monitoring it will be much easier to make the case that, say, toxic fracking waste from a nearby well has poisoned a local waterway.

It isn’t one hundred percent certain, obviously, and the industry will surely look to discredit such testing should it ever feel threatened by it. But if done well and diligently, it could provide a powerful common sense argument against fracking. It also gives even the most painfully shy introverts a way to be involved – and maybe just persuade their neighbors.

The Sierra Club’s Water Sentinels site is here.

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