Note: The following is a letter to the editor of the Youngstown Vindicator newspaper written by Sister Mary Cunningham, HM, who lives in Girard, Ohio, just across the border from their Motherhouse in Villa Maria, Pa.
July 9, 2015
In June, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a flawed report claiming that hydraulic fracturing does not have any “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the U.S.” Your recent editorial inappropriately uses that statement to quell the voices of local citizens, including some with scientific training, who call our attention to the potential harmful effects of fracking such as water contamination and negative health problems.
In its own report, the EPA acknowledges time and again that their study lacked available data from sources independent of oil and gas companies. For example, on page 5-42 of the report, they state, “However, due to a lack of available data, little is known about the prevalence and severity of actual drinking water impacts.” And again, on page 5-74, “There are documented chemical spills at fracturing sites, but a lack of available data limits our ability to determine impacts.”
The scope of the study was limited to well pad spills, so it did not include transportation-related spills, drilling mud spills and disposal spills at injection well. (page 5-42)
Since the publication of the EPA report, the University of Texas at Arlington has released a peer-reviewed scientific study independent of the gas and oil industry. They tested 550 private and public supply water sources. The study showed evidence of high levels of ethanol and methanol, as well as heavy metals that are linked to many health problems, including cancer.
Last November, the people living in Denton, Texas, passed a ban on any further fracking because of their experiences of fracking-related illness. Unfortunately, their ban, similar to attempts in Ohio, was overruled by the state. The lived wisdom of the people deserves to be respected, especially in a democratic country like ours. Thankfully, Youngstown people have the wisdom, passion and courage to be proactive before our water is contaminated. We need to listen to that wisdom or suffer the consequences.
While your editorial minimized the report of fouled water quality in the EPA study, the fact is the EPA did admit such contamination. In addition, last year, nearby Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection released a list of 243 private wells with drilling-related water problems across 22 counties. I would not call that “trifling.”
People who live amid fracking sites know someone’s water will be contaminated. Just ask them. You are correct that the cases of contamination “should serve as a springboard for more study and action aimed at preventing any and all potential health and safety threats.” We also need to listen to the concerns of citizens and provide backup with governmental regulation that does not unduly favor the gas and oil industry. Both government and technology are meant to support the common good above other values.
It is premature to conclude that fracking has “a clean bill of health.” At one time, we thought tobacco use was safe and posed little risk to health. Are we making that same mistake with fracking? Denial will not change the outcomes.
Sister Mary Cunningham, HM, Girard, Ohio
Reasons for not Fracking at Villa Maria
- As a religious Congregation, our mission of bringing more abundant life to all is our priority. Unlike for-profit corporations, financial gain is not our reason for existence. However, we do understand why some landowners might choose to lease their property, especially those suffering financial hardship
- We have lived on this land since 1864. Over those 150 years, the land has sustained our well-being and that of many other people
- The land of Villa Maria is sacred to us and an integral part of our heritage
- Drilling for gas/oil is a heavy industrial operation which violates the pastoral nature of our home and property
- Our Humility of Mary Land Ethic, affirmed by the entire Congregation, requires us to discern in advance the potential consequence of any decisions we make regarding the land
- The Land Ethic calls us to live in right relationship not only with humans, but also with Earth and all life communities (plants, animals, etc.)
- Fracking uses up millions of gallons of one of Earth’s most precious, life-sustaining resources – water
- We have an obligation to insure health not only for ourselves, but also for future generations
- Attentive to scientific study, we know that even with the best of technology, human error is inevitable and has already been documented in some areas of Pennsylvania. Water and soil contamination, air pollution and serious illness for humans and animals have resulted
- We do not want to intentionally risk the health of Earth’s priceless resources or the health of humans and animals
- In our opinion, current government regulations are seriously inadequate in overseeing gas/oil drilling
Conserve Energy Future: Renewable and Non-Renewable Energy Sources
Climate Change And Environment: Food And Water Watch