Late in the evening on April 19, 2011, an explosion occurred at a Chesapeake Energy well in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. According to the Huffington Post, “The well blew near the surface, spilling thousands and thousands of gallons of frack fluid over containment walls, through fields, personal property and farms, even where cattle continue to graze.”
Anyone else feeling a flash-back to last year’s Deep Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico? The destruction has an eerily similar tone.
Both deep water drilling and hydraulic fracturing are forms of what author and journalist Daniel Gross rightly labels “extreme energy.” These new and highly risky methods of extracting fossil fuels from the Earth largely have gone unmonitored for common safety concerns. Author and professor Michael Klare even goes as far as to call this extreme energy push “a government-backed corporate drive to exploit oil and natural gas reserves in extreme environments under increasingly hazardous operating conditions.”
When are we going to stop prioritizing corporate profits ahead of public safety?
In both disasters, public health is compromised for miles. Everyone remembers the miles of coastline covered in oil from the BP spill, including the concerned attorneys in Maryland who recently filed a lawsuit against Chesapeake Energy. Turns out the thousands of gallons of fracking fluid that spilled in Pennsylvania drained into Towanda Creek. And, as most of us learn in elementary school, the thing with fresh water creeks is that they are tributaries that flow into larger bodies of water.
Ironically, the Chesapeake Energy spill will eventually end up a state away: in the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. To Marylanders, the Chesapeake is a place to fish, go crabbing, and take the sailboat out with family and friends and its tributaries make great swimming holes. Well, it looks like they’re going to be getting the famous blue crabs found in the Chesapeake Bay from farms in Texas for their summer cook-outs this year.
Unregulated industries, like deep water drilling and hydraulic fracturing, jeopardize public safety. Even livelihoods are threatened by the toxic mess. Countless fisherman in the Gulf have been out of work and multiple fishing companies have closed down. Pasture-lands and fishing waters are now contaminated in Pennsylvania. Not only are energy companies ruining our environment, they are putting small businesses and family farmers out of work as well. I wonder if BP and Chesapeake Energy subtract those numbers when they boast about how many jobs they’re creating.
However, the BP oil spill cannot be compared to the fracking fluid spill in Pennsylvania. Partly because the estimated 140 million gallons spilled in the Gulf overshadows the thousands of gallons spilled in Pennsylvania. But, since Halliburton and other natural gas companies refuse to disclose the chemical list for fracking fluid and the associated health effects, it’s impossible to compare them.
Energy independence and business development are never going to be worth the risks if these industries are not fairly regulated and monitored responsibly. There are government agencies and federal regulations that are supposed to keep us safe from water and air contamination. To cut corners with these industries through loopholes and hastily issued permits in favor of corporate interest is a risk we may not be prepared to take and is almost a guarantee that every Earth Day will be marked with a toxic spill somewhere in North America.