The Good Ole’ Boy Extraction Club: An Eco-Feminist Critique of the Culture of Hydraulic Fracturing by Wendy Lynne Lee, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania,
The emergence of hydraulic fracturing—fracking—as a method of fossil fuel extraction presents a new and particularly virulent form of masculinist entitlement disguised as an appeal to “traditional values,” “patriotic duty,” “national security,” or “the public good.” This appeal disproportionately disadvantages “others,” particularly with respect to sex, ethnicity, and economic class, and “legitimates” a process of extraction that threatens the existential conditions of living things: clean water and breathable air. As the latest player in global capitalism’s exploitation of resources and labor, the “new” “good old boy” culture of fracking is a form of what amounts to genocidal profiteering.
An early version of this paper was presented at Susquehanna University, November 12th, 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwE0kClzg8M&feature=youtu.be
Four Examples: Breast Cancer, Forcible Eviction, Manufactured Scarcity,and the Green-Washing/Genderizing of Fracking
This paper begins by acknowledging the mammoth work undertaken by citizens acting not on the hope of profits, but rather on the wherewithal of conscience, to spell out the dangers posed tohealth, environment, community, and national security by slickwater horizontal hydraulicfracturing, or fracking. Many of these same citizens – a disproportionate number of whom are women – have also shown that this form of natural gas production has become a profoundly important player in economy and government at every level, and in ways that have resulted or are likely to result in serious harm to the environment, nonhuman animals, other forms of wildlife, the integrity of municipalities and townships, the public health, and the public good more broadly.
It’s an easy thing, however, to appeal to “the public good” and ignore the specifically sexed,
raced, aged, urban/rural, union member, veteran status, and/or economic identities of the citizenswho compose that public. Indeed, it’s perhaps a little too easy to close our eyes to the disproportionate risk borne by those who remain invisible to boards of directors at Chesapeake, PVR/Aqua America, Stantec, or Anadarko.
Perhaps it’s a little too easy to forget that the benefit s of “shale play” redound to a very few on the very short term, a few more on the merely short term, and to none on the arguably ecocidal long term. Moreover, while the sojourn to this “long term” may be eased by the privileges of health insurance, leisure, and good wine for some, it’s already a walk on hot coals—almost literally—for others. After all, there is no more an “other” at the end of fossil fuel extractionthan there is at the end of dying. And environmental death is death, plain and simple.
My argument, however, is not merely that the rise of Big Energy reinforces the institutionalized prerogatives of white wealthy men at the disadvantage of “others.” That’s old news. My argument is that the emergence of hydraulic fracturing as a method of fossil fuel extraction presents a new and especially virulent form of presumed entitlement disguised as an appeal to “traditional values,” “patriotic duty,” “national security,” or “the public good” and that this appeal not only disadvantages “others,” particularly women, the economically vulnerable, the elderly and children, but generates consequences which systematically compromise the conditions upon which all living things depend: clean water and breathable air.
What’s more is that the fossil fuel industry as a whole has been emboldened by the success of corporations like Chesapeake to accelerate other forms of extraction (such as mountain top coal removal), influence government policy, exploit existing laws, loopholes, and court decisions to their advantage with government approval (if not active collusion), and effectively write laws that favor every aspect of the extraction gambit. And hydraulic fracturing is a gambit.
From cradle to grave the process of extracting natural gas from shale deposits via manipulated chemical earthquake a mile or more underground is a hazardous proposition. Though we perhaps think first of the environment, the hazards include the risk of accident for gas field workers and truck-drivers, communities within range of potential explosions, spills, emissions, other forms of exposure to pollutants, the largely invisible injustice of forceable eviction, and the risk of toxic contamination for farm animals and wildlife. It’s also a very expensive proposition, so expensive in fact that work on pipeline infrastructure like the Marc I in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania is taking place at a rate of speed worrisome on its face.
While the Big Energy players may be the same, the “shale play” has shifted in a direction that threatens not only to unravel the hard-won gains made by women and minorities, but to establish a new reality of social injustice—one that scours along the well-worn trenches of good old fashioned sexism and bigotry with brand new machinery—the crew cabs of industry representatives on their way to drill sites, transmission lines, compressor stations, water withdrawals, water impoundments, deep injection wells, open-pit waste sites, land-fills, dehydration stations, as well as the offices of elected representatives, governors, and, of course, the bank.
Fracking is a human rights issue not only because it threatens the necessary conditions of living things—clean water and breathable air—but because it reinforces a social order that depends on the labor, exploitation, oppression, dismissal, and inferiorization of those already vulnerable to its economic and environmental consequences. Fracking is a human rights issue because genocidal profiteering combined with the corporatization of government and the industrialization of public lands and resources converts the “public good” into a cynical flag-waving TV-spot for “cheap, natural, and abundant.”
I’ll make out this argument along the rails of four examples, each highlighting an aspect of the role played by gender, ethnicity, age, or economic status. The first of my examples concerns cancer, particularly breast and endocrine system malignancies. My argument, however, is not merely that it’s in the interest of the extraction industries to use, for example, proprietary rights laws, compromised industry or even university studies, and/or strategies to discredit naysayers with respect to the growing evidence for a link between fracking and breast cancer, but that it actively colludes with government to conceal this evidence. I’ll show that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is particularly compromised on this score, and effectively operates as a permit clearing house, employment office, and public relations agency for hydraulic fracturing. Just like energy “regulators” across Canada, AER is a particularly nasty law-violating frac harm enabler.
My second example concerns compulsory evictions to make way for fracking infrastructure, particularly the evictions of 32 families at Riverdale in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. While we might be tempted to see such evictions merely as a matter of the property rights of the landowner, the choice of location by PVR/Aqua America, I’ll argue, was governed not merely by availability, but by the vulnerability of the residents in virtue of their economic, age and/or gender status. The evidence of Aqua America’s dismissive attitude toward the residents is made clear not only in the way the latter were treated—a wholly inadequate offer of $2500.00 to move their mobile homes—but, and tellingly, in the way Aqua America moved forward with the demolition of the park before all of the residents were able to evacuate it, exposing the residents and their children to the hazards of the demolition itself and to its potentially toxic byproducts, such as asbestos. As we know from the history of coal mining, mountain top removal, rare minerals mining, diamond mining—and now fracking—in addition to environmental destruction and pollution, entitlement requires displacement and exploitation. Who better make that sacrifice than those who always have?
My third example builds on this point by examining the role one water company, Nick de Benedictis’ Aqua America, plays in the water security of Americans. Involved in the supply of water both to residential neighborhoods and to fracking operations at location like Riverdale, Aqua America is positioned to effectively extort consent to the purchase of its product: clean drinking water. This position is substantially enhanced, I’ll argue, by the fact that as more and more water is siphoned off to fracking operations where it is irrecoverably polluted, less and less will be available for human and nonhuman animal consumption. As is well understood from the experience of developing countries (especially in light of climate change), water insecurity exerts upward pressure on its market value, leaving the economically vulnerable with less access to a commodified necessary condition of life. Like its cousin, food insecurity, water insecurity affects women, children, the elderly, and the poor in disproportionately adverse ways, and this, I’ll argue, stands among the most significant—if under-appreciated—aspects of hydraulic fracturing.
Lastly, I’ll turn my critical focus to another kind of organization, and examine the role of charities whose focus is women’s health—but who sponsor events featuring donations from the fracking industry, such as the Susan G. Komen Foundation (http://ww5.komen.org/), and then the role women play as the public relations face of the shale industry, for example, Katherine Klaber of the Marcellus Shale Coalition (http://marcelluscoalition.org/), Nicole Jacobs and Rachael Colley of the industry front group, Energy in Depth (.http://eidmarcellus.org/). The recruitment of charitable organizations and/or the recruitment of women themselves to promote fracking as safe and environmentally responsible is an industry strategy aimed as greenwashing and genderizing it, and thereby helps to conceal the fact that the industry is massively polluting and pervasively male-dominated. While Chesapeake may well raise money for breast cancer research, the cost of such an alliance is the reproduction of the conditions of cancer, and as such represents nothing but a very cynical and calculative strategy on the behalf of the gas industry—and a serious moral lapse for the charitable organizations who take their money.
While Klaber, Jacobs, Colley, and Connolly may experience their positions as empowering, even liberating given how otherwise masculinist is the corporate culture which employs them, their complicity serves only to reinforce that culture through its contribution to industry success, a success achieved at the expense of those already disproportionately vulnerable to economic dispossession, social stigma, and environmental deterioration. Indeed, if success for women must be measured by our capacity to access positions typically occupied by men, I suggest we ought to seriously reconsider what count as feminist values. If contributing to the conditions of ecocide is the price of our emancipation, if breast cancer is the cost of our political freedom, if we are willing to sacrifice poor women, brown women, old women for the sake of our own liberation, we will achieve neither liberation nor a future in which to struggle for it.
And we will have sacrificed not only countless others to a scale of value that systematically entitles men, but ultimately ourselves to the environmental erosion that can kill us all.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Failure to Disclose Potential Exposure to Carcinogens Associated with Breast Cancer
First, then, to the potential health effects of hydraulic fracturing, particularly for women. According to Sara Jerving of The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch, April, 2012, while some of the potential health effects which accrue to the use of hazardous chemicals in fracking have begun to receive attention, only very recently has this focus turned to hazards specific to women’s health. As Jerving reports:
Some reports indicate that more than 25 percent of the chemicals used in natural gas operations have been linked to cancer or mutations, although companies like Haliburton have lobbied hard to keep the public in the dark about the exact formula of fracking fluids. According to the U.S. Committee on Energy and Commerce, fracking companies used 95 products containing 13 different known and suspected carcinogens between 2005 and 2009 as part of the fracking fluid that is injected in the ground. These include naphthalene, benzene After Encana/Ovintiv illegally frac’d right into my community’s drinking water, naphthalene was found in my drinking water and benzene was found by Encana in Rosebud Hamlet’s. It’s a good thing the hamlet has now been provided safe alternate water via pipeline (Dec 2020), but not good that taxpayers are forced to pay the millions of dollars for it, instead of frac’er Encana. My property is just outside the hamlet boundaries, so I did not get safe water., and acrylamide. Benzene, which the U.S. EPA has classified as a Group A, human carcinogen, is released in the fracking process through air pollution and in the water contaminated by the drilling process. The Institute of Medicine released a report in December 2011 that links breast cancer to exposure to benzene. (http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/04/11204/fracking-frenzys-impact-women).
Moreover, “[u]p to thirty-seven percent of chemicals in fracking fluids have been identified as endocrine-disruptors—chemicals that have potential adverse developmental and reproductive effects.
According to the U.S. EPA, exposure to these types of chemicals has also been implicated in breast cancer” (http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/04/11204/fracking-frenzys-impact-women). As evidence, Jerving reports that
In the six counties in Texas which have seen the most concentrated gas drilling, breast cancer rates have risen, while over the same period the rates for this kind of cancer have declined elsewhere in the state. The average of the six counties’ rates has risen from 58.7 cases per 100,000 people in 2005 to about 60.7 per 100,000 in 2008. Similarly, in western New York, where traditional gas drilling processes have been used for decades before hydrofracking came along, has been practiced for nearly two centuries, rural counties with historically intensive gas industry activity show consistently higher cancer death rates … than rural counties without drilling activity. For women, this includes breast, cervix, colon, endocrine glands, larynx, ovary, rectal, uterine, and other cancers. (http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/04/11204/fracking-frenzys-impact-women)
To be clear, my aim in this paper is not to weigh in on the issue whether a connection can be definitively established between fracking and breast cancer. I think it can, but as Jeremy Revkin of the New York Times points out, establishing this connection must take into account factors other than proximity to drill sites such as diet, migration patterns, the cancer history of a location before drilling, etc. (http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/02/more-on-frackin-peer-review-and-public-health/). That chemicals like benzene are cancer-causing agents, that benzene is utilized in fracking, (http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/benzene/basics/facts.asp), and that potential exposure to benzene escalates at or near drill sites is, however, well established. Moreover, while men can, of course, contract breast cancer, the preponderance of cases belong to women as well as to other organs exclusive to women’s reproductive systems. It is in this sense that fracking has a specifically sexed signature.
It is, then, I think particularly disheartening that, under Pennsylvania’s Act 13, physicians who suspect that exposure to fracking chemicals is the culprit in the illness of their patients may not, should the law withstand court challenge, reveal the amount or the mix of the relevant chemicals (http://www.damascuscitizensforsustainability.org/2012/03/does-a-provision-in-pa-act-13-force-doctors-to-remain-silent-on-potential-public-health-risks-associated-with-fracking/). As Walt Brasch puts the point:
If a company does release information about what is used [in a specific frack operation], health care professionals are bound by a non-disclosure agreement that not only forbids them from warning the community of water and air pollution that may be caused by fracking, but which also forbids them from telling their own patients what the physician believes may have led to their health problems… The clauses are buried on pages 98 and 99 of the 174-page bill, which was initiated and passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law in February by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. (http://newsitem.com/opinion/fracking-law-restricts-health-care-professionals-from-sharing-vital-information-1.1284009#axzz1rYp3Vw00)
In other words, under the current law, a woman could be left to decide on a course of treatment—including chemotherapy or even mastectomy without the benefit of informed consent—a basic and long-recognized right of patients—because she will not know what might be in either the fracking fluids or the flowback water that made her sick. That such a law is written for the extraction industry is, I think, obvious in its many other provisions, particularly in its gutting of municipality powers to determine whether and where a fracking operation can be constructed within its borders, for example, 300 ft. from a daycare or a retirement center—community assets with which women are likely to have the greatest share of interaction. That such a law violates a cornerstone principle of bioethics and jeopardizes women’s health in so doing speaks to an administration whose values do not accord with Pennsylvania’s constitutional guarantee to protect the health and welfare of citizens of the Commonwealth.
Part of what makes the issue of breast cancer the canary in the coalmine for any analysis of fracking in Pennsylvania is that the very government agency entrusted to regulate, monitor, and inform citizens about the risks of exposure to chemicals like benzene, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), does not, in fact, do its job. And worse, the agency acts as an effective profit-centered intermediary for the extraction industry’s intimate relationship with the Corbett administration. Two brief examples:
- November, 2012, Don Hopey of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that, according to court documents, “[t]he Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has created incomplete lab reports and used them to dismiss complaints that Marcellus Shale gas development operations have contaminated residential water supplies and made people sick” Like Alberta’s fraudulent Research Council and “regulators” (http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/marcellusshale/state-representative-calls-for-probe-of-dep-water-testing-reports-660215/#ixzz2B10siAtu). Representative Jesse White, D-Cecil, has now called for federal law enforcement agencies to conduct an investigation for “alleged misconduct and fraud” “described in sworn depositions in a civil case currently in Washington County Common Pleas Court.” The allegations make specific reference to carcinogens in frack fluids. Among these depositions is Taru Upadhyay’s, the division director of DEP’s Bureau of Laboratories. In it she alleges that “the department’s oil and gas division directed the lab to generate water test reports to homeowners that omitted the full menu of findings for heavy metals, including lithium, cobalt, chromium, boron and titanium, some of which are human carcinogens, as well as volatile organic compounds that are associated with hydraulic fracturing fluids.” DEP representative Kevin Sunday denies Ms. Upadhyay’s allegations, arguing that because the deposition relates to a lawsuit filed against DEP in Washington County, and was taken by a lawyer, Kendra Smith, for the plaintiff, that “[i]t is clear to any fair minded person that this letter… is an effort by a plaintiffs’ attorney to mislead and manipulate news coverage in an effort to litigate his cases in the press instead of the courtroom.” But whether this disclaimer is true, it is irrelevant since the facts are that what was in the plaintiff’s water—but not reported to the plaintiff—included “heavy metals associated with oil and gas flowback and produced water, also called frack water… a study conducted with the input of the DEP… lists aluminum, boron, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, lithium, molybdenum, nickel, strontium, thallium, tin, titanium and zinc as heavy metals found in flowback water from oil and gas drilling operations,” agents identified as factors in breast cancer (http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2012/11/02/dep-employee-says-agency-withholds-water-contamination-information-from-residents/).
- Even prior to Upadhyay’s allegations, however, DEP had moved to radically alter standing policy on foul-water notifications to property owners, and had done so without public notice. Indeed, the agency abrogated its responsibility to notify property owners of possible water contamination in September, 2012: “The new policy… requires DEP field offices to instead send the contamination determinations to Harrisburg for review by top administrators, up to and including Scott Perry, deputy secretary of DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas Management, and DEP Secretary Michael Krancer. The administrators then decide whether determination letters should be sent” (http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/marcellusshale/dep-alters-policy-on-foul-water-notifications-657473/#ixzz2B3MQM1RP)
Consider the implications: Michael Krancer, recruited into the Corbett administration from Exelon, has made it his mission to insure a “friendly and expedited permit process”—EZ-Frack— for fracking operations, and Scott Perry is charged with the execution of policies clearly written for the industry. A decision, in other words, could be made not to send a determination letter if Krancer or Perry decide it’s unwarranted. But given the recent report concerning omission of carcinogens from DEP lab reports, this seems like asking the proverbial fox to guard the proverbial hen house.
I intend this masculinist metaphor deliberately. What Krancer and Perry represent are not merely two more wealthy white men deciding what’s in the interest of “others”; they represent an administration—Tom Corbett’s—whose stated ideological objectives accord with the conservative agenda widely known for its very narrow view of women’s rights, especially reproductive rights. In the current political climate, saturated as it is by the Republican War on Women, it is simply not surprising that evidence of a connection between breast cancer and fracking is systematically ignored both by the state and by the state’s corporate partners; they’d have to empower DEP to protect us from the incursions of corporations like Chesapeake instead of deliberately omitting the evidence that damns them.
I wonder if any of the men in positions of power and at the companies frac’ing and abusing families, environment and communities know about this:
The combination of lab reports containing deliberate omissions of the presence of carcinogens in water samples, and a DEP policy that authorizes pro-gas representatives of the Corbett administration to determine whether property owners receive letters informing them of that contamination spells disaster. It effectively trades exposure to carcinogens for profits, and it makes women special victims of the sacrifice zone. If you live, play, or work near a fracking operation or one of its necessary infrastructure operations, and your drinking water is contaminated with carcinogens, and you get breast cancer, the water-test report you see may well omit reference to the very chemicals responsible for your exposure. If you have your well tested, you may (a) get a report back falsely reassuring you that all is well—or (b) not get a report back at all—falsely reassuring you that all is well. The only reasonable conclusion we can draw here is that DEP is guilty of fraud, of acting in collusion with an administration clearly committed not to the public good—much less to the public health—but to insuring the profitability of an industry in which many of its agents have a personal vested interest. Just like AER, Alberta Environment, the courts, RCMP/police (sent to harass and scare the harmed), Alberta politicians of all stripes (NDP are the worst because they pretend to be concerned and opposed to frac’ing but when in power quickly reduced (already near zero) royalties even more for billion dollar profit raping companies, and giving more subsidies to enable the frac harms under the guise of cleaning up the environment (enabled on stage by our endless corrupt NGOs), etc. NDP in BC is enabling horrific frac harms.
“Misogynist” is not too strong a term to describe this view since the governor and his agents certainly know the connection between exposure to frack-related toxins and breast cancer, and have undertaken to conceal this evidence from precisely those persons—including women—whose water tests positive for the presence of carcinogens like benzene. Given the potential for a cancer diagnosis to yield a death sentence, this can only be called genocidal profiteering.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Failure to Enforce Inspections for Asbestos During the Demolition of Riverdale Mobile Home Community
May 31st, 2012, the residents of Riverdale Mobile Home Community held a vigil to recognize their collective decision to engage in non-violent direct action on behalf of the 32 families evicted from their homes—many of which they owned. PVR/Aqua America had purchased the land from Skip Leonard for the construction of a three million gallon per day water withdrawal facility for transport to fracking operations in the Williamsport/Jersey Shore region. While there is a great deal to be said about the ensuing defense of Riverdale by activists from Occupy Well Street, Earth First! And Occupy Wall Street—events that proved to be transformative for many of us—for now I’d like to focus on just one aspect of this history-making occupation and its tragic aftermath.
After our thirteen day encampment was raided on June 12th by private security forces, local fire-fighters, and the state police, forcing the activists out of the park, it was a matter of hours before a demolition crew—Alan A. Myers— moved in to clear Riverdale of its remaining homes, yards, play sets, etc. In fact, three families—including three children— were still living in the park and did not leave until they each reached a settlement with Aqua America on July 12th.
The settlement, it should be noted, included a gag order.
Demolition occurred throughout this period. On a tip from a fellow anti-fracking activist, I began to investigate whether the federally required asbestos inspections had been completed. What I realized was that because the occupiers had prevented anyone representing the industry from entering the park throughout for the previous thirteen days, and because the number of hours elapsed between the police raid and the demolitions was fewer than fifteen, no such inspection could have been conducted—much less completed. I called the new DEP-Williamsport Air Quality Control office June 21st. I explained why an asbestos inspection could not have been done. DEP-agent Aaron Weaver was sent to take samples on that day. I called and spoke to Weaver who was surprised to hear that people were still living in the park, an admission that did not inspire confidence that he had taken any serious walk through it. It was Summer, and all three children would likely have been there. I received a return phone call—after a number of attempts—on August 1st from Andrea Ryder, DEP Air Quality District Supervisor. She reported to me that a sample was taken July 6th—nearly three weeks after Aaron Weaver’s—and that the results came back negative for friable asbestos July 11th 2012. It remains unclear whether two samples were taken or only one.
Ryder then reported that Alan A. Myers was ordered to stop demolition between 6.21-7.11. As I have photo-documented, they did not. Moreover, they did not perform an asbestos inspection until, as reported by DEP, July 9th. These results were not given to DEP until July 19th. When I reported the failure to stop the demolitions to Ryder, her repeated response was a kind of “no harm, no foul,” that we should be glad they found no asbestos—but even if they (or DEP) had it would result in no sanction or fine against Myers or Aqua America since it could be presumed that the corporation would opt to litigate, that their lawyers would argue that the asbestos could have been released when residents, under the pressure of the eviction notices, stripped their mobile homes for materials they could sell to make their deposits on apartments or lot rents. Alternately, she pointed out, the corporations could argue that because some of the residents smoked, cigarettes could be the source of the asbestos. In any case, said Ryder, it would not be worth DEP’s time to pursue any punitive course of action since, as she put it, the aim of DEP in such cases was not to “penalize,” but to “educate.” Lie and propagandize more like it, and do the dirty like help polluting companies change post-frac water testing data to pre-frac “baseline” Moreover, such violations were like “seat-belt infractions,” she explained. Aqua would do better next time.
When I protested that the issue was not (or not exclusively) simply whether asbestos had been found, but whether federal law had been violated, Ryder demurred, insisting again that DEP’s primary function was only to “monitor.” Such a response is inadequate for the following reasons:
- No inspection for asbestos would likely have been done at all were it not for a citizen who demanded it.
- That the original inspection conducted by DEP was conducted without any recognition that people were living in the park is troubling. Asbestos is a serious carcinogen implicated in mesothelioma among other cancers, and exposure can have life-long consequences.
- That the ultimate and decisive inspection was not conducted until July 9th, not reported to DEP until July 19th, and was conducted by the very corporation (or its contractors) in violation of federal law regarding asbestos inspections is also troubling; it’s another version of the fox guarding the henhouse
- That DEP’s response was foot-dragging, both with respect to failing to insure that the demolitions were halted, and with respect to their refusal to impose any penalty either for failing to perform the inspections or for failing to halt the demolitions indicates, I think, precisely where DEP’s allegiances lay—and it is not with the workers responsible for the demolition or with the security guards posted at the park gates 24/7, or with the remaining residents at the park. Indeed, as far as I’m aware, DEP did not check to see whether the demolitions had been halted.
We might be tempted to conclude that while such accounts clearly signify economic class as a relevant factor in addressing the question how negligence like this can happen, gender seems less a factor. But when you consider that some studies do show that asbestos may be linked to breast cancer (http://www.asbestos.com/cancer/breast.php), that economic class is closely associated with gender, and that the record that DEP has amassed thus far suggests a consistent refusal to take seriously the charge that fracking—from cradle to grave—generates opportunities for exposure to many forms of carcinogen, we have, I think, to conclude that gender as well as class status are relevant factors. That water withdrawal is not directly connected to fracking chemicals or produced water is also no defense for Aqua America or Alan A, Meyers. Given that produced water cannot be returned to the water table, that only 3% of the earth’s water is potable, that women—whether in the first or the developing world—remain principally responsible for the cooking, cleaning, and bathing that depends on clean water, and given that water security stands among the most pressing and urgent of social issues in many countries, it cannot be denied that fracking in all of its phases takes a particular and heavy toll on women, especially poor women.
Given the clear sense of entitlement reflected in the “excellent relationship” between the extraction industry and the DEP, it should come as no surprise that Aqua America CEO Nick DeBenedictis’ attitude towards the forced and/or extorted evictions at Riverdale is wholly dismissive. In an interview query segment of a quarterly earnings presentation, DeBenedictis was asked a question about the occupation of Riverdale. He responded that [w]hen we bought the land to put our big pump station on that will do the 3 million gallons of water from the Susquehanna River, the gentleman who sold it to us — this is the controversy you’re talking about. The gentleman who sold it to us had a mobile home park on the land that he was supposed to have cleared because it’s industrial land, and he was nowhere to be found when we showed up and the homes are still there. So a couple of the people complained that they thought they were going to get evicted, which we had no plans to do, and it’s in an orderly progression of people leaving as we’ve offered them incentives to move as we start construction. But that made the newspaper and I think some of the anti-drilling activists used that as a reason to be opposing it more than the people in the area that were affected directly. And I didn’t realize that it got all the way to New York, but I guess, it made the Internet. But I think it’s under control now and it’s not going to affect our schedule on the pumps being built or our permitting. Enough people have already left that we have room. (http://seekingalpha.com/article/558301-aqua-america-s-ceo-discusses-q1-2012-results-earnings-call-transcript?page=4&p=qanda&l=last).
In other words, that there were families living in the park was of so little consequence to DeBenedictis that it didn’t occur to him to hold up construction (and therefore demolition) on their account. That demolition requires obeying federal laws with respect to inspecting for carcinogens like friable asbestos didn’t figure into the Aqua America calculation. What did figure in was getting the remaining residents out as quickly as possible, for as little expense as possible, with as little fanfare as possible—just as DeBenedictis PR pitch implies.
DeBenedictis, however, is not telling the truth. The occupation was not a couple of people complaining, but rather between 20-50 people every day for 13 days blocking all entrance to the park. Hands Across Riverdale affected the schedule, the permitting, the demolitions, and the construction of the water withdrawal. And the occupation accomplished far more than merely “making the Internet.” It was reported in
The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stanley-rogouski/fracking_b_1566162.html),
Mother Jones (http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/06/pa-fracking-eviction), Alex Chadwick’s Burn (http://burnanenergyjournal.com/fracking-vs-riverdale-mobile-home-park/),
Shaleshock (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MhrUceqSR0&feature=related) and Public Source (http://publicsource.org/investigations/fractured-lives-along-susquehanna) among a number of other national, regional, and local media sources, both on-line, newsprint (for example,
The Williamsport Sun-Gazette: http://www.sungazette.com/page/content.detail/id/579091/Mobile-home-park-residents-remain-as-move-date-hits.html?nav=5011) and
Watch, for example, this Shaleshock video of April Daniels, one of the evicted young mothers at Riverdale and Vera Scroggins who speaks up for her: http://blip.tv/shaleshock-media/riverdale-you-we-in-the-way-6219037. Then read DeBenedictis again. Offering poor families $2500.00 to move in a region where rents have doubled or even tripled due to the demand from gas workers, where declining such an offer solicits forceable eviction, where stripping the home you own of anything saleable becomes a necessity for making an apartment deposit, where making families homeless is the direct consequence of fracking—these are DeBenedictis’ “ couple of complaints.”
Some of the bravest among those who resisted Aqua America during the occupation of Riverdale were women. Deb Eck, the leader of the resistance among the residents, was finally forced out of her home July 12th. Despite DeBenedictis’ claim that none were evicted, but were rather offered “incentives” to move, a “crisis response” security force was posted at Riverdale from June 12th onward to insure that none but the residents still living at Riverdale could go in or out, that the residents could not have any family or friends visit them in their own homes, and that once moved out the remaining residents could not re-enter the park—even for the retrieval of their own belongings. The irony, however, is not that Deb Eck and her twin daughters were evicted from their community—that is “merely” unjust.
The irony is that while she was forced to sign a gag order preventing her from exercising her constitutional right to publicly protest Aqua America (much less sue them, say, for potential exposure to asbestos), she was also forced by the necessities of her 60 hour (at least) per week job to move to a trailer court next to a two lane highway where endless frack-trucks compete for road space with school buses, where within an hour’s drive exist at least two more water withdrawals, active frack operations, transmission lines, and compressor stations.
This is how Aqua America conceives American citizens, at least the ones that are in their way. Deb Eck and her children are apparently not part of the national security worth protecting. As for the rest of us, we’re expected to applaud the corporation who assures us that energy security is national security; and if we’re “the good American” we will suffer without resistance life in the sacrifice zone as emblematic of our American spirit. Yet, we know that even this is a lie. Deb Eck’s sacrifice was not for country, but for the profitability of global markets whose sale of natural gas, LPG, petroleum and coal fuels the economies of the highest bidder—regardless their feelings for America or Americans.
The tragedy for Deb Eck is that while we expect such reprehensible behavior from the corporations that brought us the BP disaster, contribute to climate change, and convert our public lands into private real estate, we ought to be able to expect better from the representatives we elect to uphold our state constitutions and embody our democratic decision-making. DEP not only failed Deb Eck and her children, but in fact acted on behalf of those who have failed Deb Eck a thousand times: mostly white, mostly affluent, mostly men.
Corporate Profiteering, the Extortion of Women’s Charities, and the Green-Washing/Gender-Sanitizing of Fracking
Long ago Karl Marx argued that one of the hallmark characteristics of the marketing required to support mass production was the creation of a kind of false consciousness, that is, a sense of needing things we once merely wanted (or didn’t know), creating acutely felt desires for things intended to be consumable and disposable. In the contemporary incarnation of the culture industry, corporations like Chesapeake or Anadarko work hard to create a similar kind of delusion, namely, that they offer a product that is clean, American, endless—something only the un-American Luddite would deny.
In a world where the purchase of appearances is the ticket to profit margins, even the sacrifice of life can become convenient fodder for good advertizing. Consider Chesapeake’s effort to greenwash and genderize itself by partnering up with the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Race For the Cure to sponsor a 2009 bicycle “race” called “Cruising for the Cure.” The article opens with the stark facts about breast cancer: “[o]ne in eight women in the U.S. is diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime; that’s an estimated 5 million Americans over the next 25 years.” Chesapeake then announces its “partnership” with both organizations “to provide financial support and participants for several local Race for the Cure events.”
The message is clear. We can trust Chesapeake to tell us the truth about cancer, to help find a cure, and to identify with its victims: “I had a scare myself in college,” said Tiesa Leggett, Chesapeake Public Affairs Representative. “Luckily it did not turn out to be cancer, but it’s frightening to think that statistically, anyone of us could be diagnosed in the future.” The caption under a picture filled with smiling bicyclists reads: “Chesapeake is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for its employees and the residents in the communities where it operates. As a result, the company partners with a number of health organizations including the American Diabetes Association (ADA).”
It is at least disappointing that organizations like Susan G. Komen or Race for the Cure—organizations devoted to curing disease and improving human life—opt to partner with corporations directly implicated in creating the conditions of the very cancers they purport to want to cure. It’s called Synergy and is pure Evil. It’s more than disappointing; this public relations coup for Chesapeake is a disaster for women—and I think a serious moral lapse for such otherwise charitable organizations. Chesapeake uses events like this bike race to promote itself as a compassionate enterprise interested in human welfare, women’s health and environmental integrity. But the truth is that its drilling process involves benzene and that its spokespersons actively lobby elected representatives to pass legislation to keep its chemical cocktails proprietary, its access to property—private and public—convenient, its reporting of accidents cursory, and its image shiny and fresh. The fact is that Chesapeake uses non-profits like Susan G. Komen to genderize and greenwash its image in the face of the fact that it contributes to breast cancer. What could be better than a foundation devoted to the cure of breast cancer to indemnify you against the accusation that you’re a cause of breast cancer? What better a cancer to pretend to care about than one that sickens and kills thousands of women?
Chesapeake’s partnering with non-profits aimed at women’s health epitomizes the masculinist worldview to which the Good Ole’ Boy Extraction Club thinks itself entitled. Rather like a relationship of domestic violence, Hubby- Chesapeake’s Charitable Foundation-Wife comes to the marriage economically vulnerable in virtue of a social structure which panders to Hubby’s buddies—Anadarko, Chief, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Inergy, XTO, Shell, Aqua America/PVR, Williams Production, Stantec—and all of their “midstream” associates. Hubby poisons and rapes Wife in order to extract minerals from her womb—but then brings her flowers and promises fun things like bicycle events. Sadly, however, Wife is already sick, and unless she can break free of Hubby altogether, she will end up dead even while he ends up rich—while the rest of us stand about wondering why there’s so much damn cancer.
Handout I prepared to give to Encana and the “regulator” at a community meeting put on by AER when it was EUB, held in Rosebud’s church.
How much charitable organizations ought to be faulted for taking frack-bucks is, of course, up for debate. But one thing’s clear—the money is as dirty as is the misogynist profiteering behind it. Indeed, the money is as dirty as is the cynical strategy of the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition soliciting Big Energy for donations. As Green Generation reports in an article titled “Greenwash of the Month: Breast Cancer Prevention and Fracking Chemicals Don’t Mix”:
PPBC’s [Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition] website caters to this desire of companies to be seen as socially conscious in their blog article, “Can Your Business Help Take A Swing Against Breast Cancer?” The article details the advantages of becoming a company sponsor of their Baseball Derby stating, “The promotional and marketing opportunities are well worth the cost! Plus, your company will be seen in a positive light by linking with the PBCC, a non-profit breast cancer organization.” (http://generationgreen.org/2011/10/greenwash-of-the-month-breast-cancer-prevention-and-fracking-chemicals-don’t-mix/)
The purchase of appearance is the ticket to profit margins—and Chesapeake is not the only one who knows it. Just as many of the leader-activists in the anti-fracking movement are women, so too does the industry understand that its best marketing strategy is not just to put “the race for the cure” on its website home pages, but to employ women as the face of their public relations campaigns. Yes, we see that in Canada too, and worse, Synergy Alberta hires well dressed front women that circle and slither up to the anxious men in public meetings put on by Synergy, industry, AER, etc, flirting them into happy silence. Sleazy and effective and ghastly to watch.
Among the most visible of the fracking industry’s promotional agencies is Energy in Depth (EID) who along with the Marcellus Shale Coalition feature women both in youtube-style advertising for fracking, and as spokespersons or “reporters” for the natural gas industry.
The aims, I suggest, are three-fold: first, to enlist women in the promotion of shale extraction despite the fact that fracking poses serious risks to women’s health, to exploit the iconic connection between women and “Mother Nature” as a strategy for green-washing the industry, and lastly, to genderize an industry controlled not only by men, but by interests which reinforce the patriarchal status quo. To take just three brief examples:
- In a promotional video produced by EID titled “Women of the Marcellus” three women, a dairy farmer from Troy, a single-parent working for a local pharmacist, and a bed and breakfast owner from Towanda, each describe how the Marcellus shale industry has benefitted their families (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QADyW0y64w). A dairy farmer describes how in 2009 the recession nearly drove the family farm under—until the white trucks of the landmen appeared. A single parent describes how, in kindling a romance with a childhood friend who has retired and gone to work for the industry, she is able to put her kids through private school. She points out with great pride that her oldest son will likely go to work in the shale region. The Towanda owner of the Victorian Charm Inn caters to gas industry executives and representatives “who have become like family.” This latter vignette is particularly striking given that Towanda has experienced increased crime and blight due to the transient fracking industry workers who occupy its man camps.
- Appointed by DEP, Kathryn Klaber is the president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), a group promoting itself as an advocate for “responsible development,” but that plays “a leading role in the gains made by a coalition of organizations and employers to improve tax competitiveness and the business climate in Pennsylvania” for the extraction industry (http://marcelluscoalition.org/about/president/). She also takes an active role in squashing bad press for corporations like Cabot, the star of Josh Fox’ Gasland (the documentary that exposed well-contamination in Dimock), and she defends the EPA report concluding Dimock’s water was clean despite evidence to the contrary: “we’re now able to close this chapter once and for all.” (http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/07/26/EPA–Water-is-safe-in-town-in-Pa-drilling-region). Klaber provided damage control to the industry at this year’s incarnation of Shale Gas Outrage, an anti-fracking demonstration in Philadelphia, by promising a “campaign” to answer “the questions of residents of Southeastern Pennsylvania with facts, with sound science and with comprehensive research” (http://articles.philly.com/2012-09-21/business/34003708_1_kathryn-z-klaber-range-resources-protesters). And she was instrumental in promoting Governor Corbett’s courtship of Shell with 1.7 billion in tax breaks to build an ethane cracker plant in Beaver County. It’s no accident that DEP appoints a woman as the president of a pro-industry group advocating for the promise of jobs. After all, she could be a mother, a daughter, a sister—certainly not someone who’d lie to us about the toxic agents used in fracking (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujWF-Sx-NOA).
- Energy in Depth is a pro-industry group funded by the American Petroleum Institute as well as a number of extraction corporations (Anadarko, BP, Chevron, El Paso Corporation, EnCana, Halliburton, Marathon, Occidental Petroleum, Schlumberger, Shell API, Talisman and XTO Energy) (http://commonsense2.com/2012/02/naturalgasdrilling/connecting-the-dots-the-marcellus-natural-gas-play-players-part-3/). EID employs a number of writers and “field reporters,” but two of these, Nicole Jacobs and Rachael Colley stand out in virtue of their sheer excitement about fracking. In her criticism of an anti-fracking student art contest in Vestal, New York, for example, Colley insisted that the event unfairly encouraged hostility to the industry—all the while ignoring the gender-freighted symbolism of a work depicting an infant suckling from a gas can. For her part, Jacobs attacks anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins for “crying wolf” when Scroggins insisted on a DEP investigation into “loud flaring” at a drill site near her home. Jacobs wonders “how much of our taxpayer money is spent needlessly investigating complaints such as the ones made by Scroggins” (http://eidmarcellus.org/marcellus-shale/natural-gas-activists-sound-false-alarms-dep-responds-immediately/15115/#more-15115), and yet she also acknowledges that the wells on land near her own home have been contaminated with brine, a byproduct of the drilling process.
My point here is not to suggest that women ought never to be critics of other women—of course we should and we must. Neither is my point that Jacobs and Colley are simply naïve dupes of the fracking industry. They are not. My point is that as long as women continue to identify their own advances on a scale determined by and for men, they will continue to contribute to the ongoing entitlement of men’s interests. And we cannot afford this in the era of hydraulic fracturing. Whether what we’re talking about is exposure to carcinogens that cause breast cancer, or the dispossession of economically vulnerable women and their children, or the exploitation of cancer in the interest of propagandizing for fracking—or even if what we’re talking about are the reasons why intelligent educated women like Colley and Jacobs would throw their own lots in with “the gas”—we cannot afford another minute of dithering about what fracking means for women’s health or for the conditions of women’s lives.
If the symbolism contained in images of “Mother Earth” have any meaning in the 21st century it is surely that none cleave more closely to the existential conditions of life than do real flesh and blood mothers for whom water represents not only the stuff of life but its tenuousness. At the end of fossil fuel extraction is a “Mother Earth” despoiled and a choice: we can continue on the path of entitlement that will continue to reward the same players—mostly male, mostly white, mostly affluent—until the gas runs out, or we can recognize that this the fight to keep what hydrocarbons remain in the ground is the civil rights struggle of our times.
Refer also to:
Is Aqua America trying to cover-up frac contamination with chlorine? Chisholm Springs (community in Barnett Shale) drinking water making residents sick, burning skin, pleas for help go unheeded just like in every toxic frac field, including in Alberta. Will oil & gas companies fully disclose all drilling, cementing, perforating, fracing, servicing chemicals, including trade secrets, so that Aqua America can properly test the water?
New Texas study: UTA research demonstrates groundwater quality changes alongside increasing unconventional oil & gas development: “They discovered the presence of chlorinated solvents, alcohols and aromatic compounds exclusively after multiple unconventional oil wells had been activated within five kilometers of the sampling sites.”