Frac’ing us to death, in many more ways than toxic chemicals injected into our drinking water aquifers and polluted into our air

Another factor to keep in mind in Colorado’s oil and gas communities — healthy minds, We must have a larger community vision where we promote health and realize that how we are operating right now leads to chronic stress, depression and anxiety by Vincent Atchity, Jun 26, 2021, The Colorado Sun

An oil and gas drilling rig is pictured between houses on June 5, 2020 in Weld County. Photo by Andy Colwell, special to The Colorado Sun

She woke up in the middle of the night, terrified. Her immediate thought was that a truck had just rammed into her home, and her family was in danger. 

After the adrenaline had passed and the fog of sleepiness cleared, she realized it was just the oil and gas trucks again, heading down the street to the new job site, right across from her blind great uncle’s ranch.

Vincent Atchity

She’s a family member of a Mental Health Colorado staff member, and a member of our grassroots advocacy network. And she’s not alone in her distress. 

According to a 2020 study of “unconventional” oil and gas production in Colorado, such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, development activity near local communities and homes can trigger chronic stress. Ninety percent of respondents reported experiencing chronic stress, with a key cause being their inability to influence where industrial development projects are placed, and how close they can be situated to community members’ homes or their children’s school. 

Perceived bureaucratic bias towards oil and gas companies in the local decision-making process can also be a strong driver of feelings of institutional hopelessness and chronic stress. Individuals and families can feel powerless. Add to the chronic stress: hauling water as a senior living alone and running out of water in -40C, lying judges, and your own lawyers lying to you, and your ex lead lawyer even misrepresenting you to the court, with “regulators” arrogantly and cruelly brushing their hands of it all.

Coloradans who have called these communities home for generations find that they often have little to say about the transformation of their world by an invasion of powerful industry. This stress on Colorado’s communities has a serious influence on mental health.

In fact, 75% participants in the study above said that oil and gas activity contributed to longer bouts of severe depression. Feelings of not having control over the safety and tranquility of our surroundings are not good for us. 

Kaboom! Add the stress of blowing your loved ones up in your home after your community’s drinking water reservoir was destroyed in an explosion, seriously injuring the water manager, after Encana/Ovintiv illegally frac’d the aquifers that supply your well and community:

My water in 2006 after Encana/Ovintiv’s illegal secret aquifer fracs. Photo by Colin Smith. The company didn’t even have the decency or care to tell us before or after their dirty deeds.

The flame hit the ceiling; the explosion was so loud, I jumped, thus why I am a blur in the photo. I never again willingly showed the press my contaminated water igniting inside my home.

When the great shutdown occurred last spring, many of us learned just how fast life had become — we had gotten used to operating with high stress levels and little sleep. We had normalized this stress so that being constantly overwhelmed and overworked had become just another part of life. 

We have learned a lot from the pandemic.  I, for one, learned that feeling stressed 24/7 is harmful to my physical and mental health.

And what about environmental impacts on our mental health? How many of us let those go unnoticed as well? The stress we feel, wondering if our water is safe, or the sadness we feel when we can no longer see the stars due to light pollution? The depression we feel when the family land is gone, sold piece by piece to sustain a vulnerable family economy? 

We can’t have healthy minds when our surroundings become threatening and hostile. Exposure to noise from drilling aggravates health conditions related to stress and diminishes quality of life. Light pollution from oil and gas operations at night adds even more stress, impacting circadian rhythms and altering hormone releases.

Fracs in Alberta invade our homes 24/7. Would you believe the Calgary Herald had the audacity to publish the lie that companies never frac at night to give us a rest?

The fumes, noise and lights are incredibly invasive and harmful, especially at night. I like to sleep with my windows open at night during heat waves to cool the house down. A doctor studying the health harms of frac’ing advised me to never have my windows open at night anymore because frac pollution is much worse then than during the day.

… We must have a larger community vision where we promote health and realize that how we are operating right now leads to chronic stress, depression and anxiety. 

There is a better way. Instead of the harmful and short-sighted cycle of boom and bust, we must instead embrace the worthy objective of promoting community input whereby those impacted by policies have true representation in the decision-making process, allowing room for us to discuss ideas about how and where we live does indeed impact our health.

We can shrink disparities, build stability, and compete sustainably. Colorado could be aiming to be first in this nation to prioritize human health and well-being — and lead the way for other states.

Health is complex, just as we humans are complex. We too often lose sight of how we achieve well-being and forget how stress day in and day out becomes normalized until it starts to manifest in other ways. 

As our advocacy-network member experienced, poor mental health can disrupt sleep, it can manifest in our physical health and lead to more serious health issues, and it can even lead to suicide. 

We implore us all to take a step back and reflect on those factors that lead to our own poor health and advocate for ourselves and our families.

We all deserve to live in a community that promotes and defends the way of life we want and deserve, now and for generations to come.

Vincent Atchity is the president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado, the state’s leading advocate for promoting mental well-being, ending shame and discrimination, and ensuring equitable access to mental health and substance use care.

Slide from Ernst speaking events

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