Who’s Accountable for the Environment #grnrev

DSC02403By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Macondo well

spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico

I celebrated Earth Day this year by promoting y my environmentally themed book, Trails in the Sand, and guest posting on other blogs essays about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Some reviewers thanked me for reminding them about the oil spill, but one reviewer wrote that she lived through it and didn’t need to read about it.

I lived through it, too, but I’m of the opinion, we do need to remember, and we do need to hold responsible the parties who break the rules to gain more profit. In Trails, I wrote about two major disasters from April 2010 – the oil spill that killed nine men and did untold damage to wildlife and the habitat and the mine explosion in West Virginia that killed twenty-nine men. In both cases, the companies were found to be negligent for causing the death of the men and harming the environment.

And so it was with a sense of nightmarish déjà vu that I read an article in my local paper, The Beaver County Times this past weekend.

“What Lies Beneath – Officials Worry Company in Ohio Buried Drill Waste,” made me mad and then rather frightened me to realize that we might not have protection from irresponsible companies despite each state having an environmental department and having the national Department of Environmental Protection. I’m beginning to believe the moniker is a misnomer because there are far too many cases where no protection for the environment exists. And far too many of those cases are far too close to my home.

Soil Remediation, Inc., owned by David Gennaro, has been on the radar of Ohio’s DEP for years. Yet that hasn’t fazed the company as they allegedly collected and disposed petroleum-contaminated waste on its property close to the Mahoning River, a waterway that flows into the Beaver River which flows into the Ohio River in southwestern Pennsylvania. A few weeks ago, I wrote about another company in eastern Ohio that had been dumping toxic waste into the same Mahoning River.

Beaver River

Beaver River

Not only is Soil Remediation disposing of the waste illegally according to the article, but it’s also been collecting those waste products without a permit. Several Pennsylvania-based companies have been shipping their waste over to Ohio where Soil Remediation has taken the products illegally. This isn’t the first instance of this company’s flagrant disregard of environmental regulations. Records show they’ve been charged with violating many other regulations over the years. Why is this company still operating?

I’m not in favor of shutting down companies in our country. However, as much as we want to keep those companies open, it’s not in our best interest to allow them to disregard the regulations that are already in place. Those regulations exist for a reason, and that’s to protect our environment from harm. A company that can’t follow safety regulations needs to be shut down until they comply.

We don’t need to lose anymore hardworking men and women just because companies want to show a profit. Their money won’t amount to much of anything if our rivers, lakes, groundwater, and aquifers are destroyed.

The sedge has withered from the lake,

And no birds sing.

John Keats (La Belle Dame Sans Merci, 1819)cropped-dsc00860.jpg

Fracking Dilemma – It’s Not the Promised Land

cover for the movie "promised land"

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I recently went to see the new movie Promised Land starring Matt Damon, as rising star salesman Steve Butler. What does Steve sell? The promised glory to landowners if only they’ll sell off the rights to their land so the power companies can drill for natural gas on their property. Steve makes up figures and tosses out promises so some desperate landowners in western Pennsylvania are convinced they’ll become millionaires, if only they’ll allow the drilling. He doesn’t go into detail about the process, which is called fracking. Fracking allows drillers to go deep into the earth to extract natural gas. Recently, in states sitting on the rich resource, some homeowners have water so contaminated with chemicals they ignite.

The Associated Press published an article this past week that suggests the Environmental Protection Agency may be shying away from bringing charges against the companies using the method of “hydraulic fracturing.”

The article leads with this paragraph: WEATHERFORD, Texas (AP) — When a man in a Fort Worth suburb reported his family’s drinking water had begun “bubbling” like champagne, the federal government sounded an alarm: An oil company may have tainted their wells while drilling for natural gas.

But then the EPA changed its mind and decided to leave the company alone.

The movie Promised Land has been vilified by the natural gas industry for painting an unfair portrait of fracking. The Marcellus Shale Coalition  even purchased ads to run before the movie. When we saw the movie, the ad played about ten minutes before the show so when the movie started, the ad was forgotten and not seen by the twenty or so folks who came in afterwards.

The industry says the process of fracking is safe. Scientists, environmentalists, and some who live close to the drilling sites say differently. It’s a dilemma, and one faced by Steve Butler in the movie once he begins to see his victims as real human beings he’s lying to. The fact is he doesn’t really know anything about the science behind the drilling. He’s just in their homes to sell a pipe dream.

It’s a complicated issue, and it needs much more study before we go any further. Even the Sierra Club first endorsed the process because they felt natural gas was the solution to ridding the world of “dirty coal.” But not anymore. Now they put fracking in the same category as coal mining.

The Promised Land is a work of fiction with a particular viewpoint that explores the dilemma of bringing natural gas up out of the ground fast and cheap. I’ve heard criticisms of the ending, but I’m not sure I understand why. I won’t give it away here because I’d like you to go see the movie and make up your own mind. It’s important to remember the movie is a fictional account of one man’s struggle between his job and his moral integrity.  It’s up to him to decide if the two are mutually exclusive. And guess what? It ends the way the writer decided to end it. Period.