Fracking: Boom or Doom

America's hydraulic fracturing gold rush portends the greatest environmental disaster of a generation

In 2008, there were just 29 earthquakes in the Midwest. Three years later, after fracking became widespread, the figure had more than quadrupled to 134. Most of them were clustered close to wells.

After a series of earthquakes occurred in Youngstown, Ohio, earlier this year, the state banned gas companies from using deep-injection wells for water disposal.

The problem is that homes outside of natural earthquake areas aren't built to withstand even the smallest of tremors. Nor do insurers offer earthquake coverage in these regions.

Fred Mayer in Newark Valley, New York
Mark Hewko
Fred Mayer in Newark Valley, New York
Texan Sharon Wilson writes about fracking on her blog, Bluedaze.
Danny Fulgencio
Texan Sharon Wilson writes about fracking on her blog, Bluedaze.

Even the Pacific West isn't immune. Since 1924, the Baldwin Hills oil field in Los Angeles has been a source of tension between residents and the Plains Exploration and Production Company, which runs the 1,000-acre plot. Last year, the company settled a class-action lawsuit filed by neighbors who claimed that wells contaminated their air and increased the rate of earthquakes.

Now the company, which has largely relied on conventional drilling techniques, plans to frack in the same area. California doesn't regulate or track fracking, giving gas companies free rein to do as they please.

Although fracking wreaks havoc wherever the industry goes, America's politicians have decided to look the other way. On June 12, an anonymous source in New York governor Andrew Cuomo's administration told The New York Times that Cuomo was set to lift the ban in his state, one of the final fracking battlegrounds in the country. (Cuomo's office didn't respond to interview requests.)

Less than an hour south of the border, near the town of Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, former residents of the Riverdale Mobile Home Park can be found camping at the edge of Route 220 while holding signs that read "Save Riverdale!" and "No Fracking!"

In February, they learned that Richard Leonard, who owns the Riverdale land, had sold it to Aqua America, which supplies fracking companies with water. Residents were ordered to vacate the park by the end of May. Some had lived there for more than 30 years.

In a joint venture with Range Resources, Aqua America plans to spend $12 million turning the land into a pump station, taking 3 million gallons of water a day from the Susquehanna River. Residents have written and called the company, but have yet to receive a single response. The only contact they had came when a Range security guard showed up to take photos of them setting up camp outside the trailer park.

Nor has the state been any more receptive. Aqua America just happens to be owned by Nicholas DeBenedictis, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources.

"We just want it all to stop," resident Gerlinda Trimble says. Riverdale is located in Lycoming County, home to more than 667 wells, which have been cited for environmental violations 474 times. One toxic spill dumped 13,000 gallons of fracking fluid into a stream. "It's enough now. They've poisoned our land, and now they're taking our homes."

When told that Cuomo might lift the moratorium in New York, Trimble simply shakes her head. "I'll pray for them," she says.

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