Article written by Kelley Davidson for Occupy.com. Find the original story here.
Energy companies are quietly scrambling to lease mineral rights from Eastern Kentuckian landowners, but this time they’re not after coal.
Buried two miles under Central and Eastern Kentucky lies the Rogersville Shale, a vast reservoir of shale oil and natural gas. Because of its immense depth, Rogersville Shale was previously unreachable, though energy companies have recently revived interest in tapping that resource through fracking.
But in Berea, Kentucky, an artsy small town 20 minutes south of Lexington, citizens have been spreading awareness about the health and environmental devastation caused by fracking, and a movement to resist the companies' plans is building.
Berea College stands at the heart of the Madison County town. The first racially integrated school in the South, today Berea provides free tuition to students in exchange for work, and the college's progressive attitude has attracted resident faculty like bell hooks and Silas House. Now, that community's progressivism is turning into outrage as local activists coalesce around the anti-fracking cause.
Oil and gas representatives have already approached landowners in Madison, Jackson and Rockcastle counties, offering several hundreds of dollars per acre plus royalties to lease their mineral rights. The “land men,” as locals call them, are representatives from companies like ABARTA, Climarex Energy and Chesapeake Energy. Hundreds of oil and gas leases in this Appalachia area have already been signed. A the question growing numbers of people are starting to ask is: at what cost?
Playing the Fire: Evidence Stacked Against the Industry
Fracking has been directly linked to earthquakes and water contamination. Despite assertions from oil and gas company officials that fracking is a safe albeit unconventional form of resource extraction, independent studies by climate scientists, universities and geological surveyors show evidence to the contrary.
Nearly every large-scale fracking region throughout America has a horror story: flammable drinking water in Pennsylvania, cancer in Texas, increased seismic activity in Ohio. In early December, in Monroe County, Ohio, more than 50 people were displaced from their homes after a well head burst at a fracking site, sparking renewed fears about the industry.
Members of Berea’s Kentucky Environmental Foundation are familiar with these horror stories. KEF members also believe that energy companies are taking advantage of Kentuckian landowners, many of whom are signing leases without fully understanding their terms. During a Berea city council meeting on Jan. 20, Craig Williams, executive director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group and winner of the 2006 Goldman Environmental Prize, expressed his concerns about the effects fracking would inevitably have on Kentucky’s air, water and soil. “In the long run,” he said, "we think it would be a disaster.”
Williams is no stranger to exposing industrial environmental corruption. Working with CWWG, he has been whistleblowing on behalf of Bereans since 1992. Around that time, nerve and mustard agents were located at the Bluegrass Army Depot on the town's northern outskirts. Williams has been monitoring the progress of the destruction efforts of those chemical weapons ever since. Initially, the U.S. government wanted to burn the weapons, but after Williams exposed falsified information in the reports about the safety of that method, the government was forced to explore safer options. Through an excruciatingly slow process, the wheels are now in motion to destroy the nerve and mustard gases without harming the people or ecosystems of Central Kentucky.
Now, Williams has turned his attention to the fracking debate. His remarks at the city council meeting came at the height of local firefighters’ attempts to put out a shale oil fire that has been burning in Berea since mid-November. Sparked by a brush fire, the burning shale has steadily released streams of sulfur dioxide into the air in Madison County, pummeling residents with plumes of carcinogenic smoke.
I work at a restaurant in downtown Berea and deal with the smell on a consistent basis. The fire was discovered on the property of CSX railroad, which issued no comment about efforts to stop the fire. CSX’s latest Facebook updates have consisted mostly of greenwash propaganda about the company's high environmental standards. Ironic to say the least.
Residents living in the immediate vicinity of the shale fire report that firefighters and CSX made no real effort to stop it or to notify citizens of the extent of the disaster until mid-January. As a result, the shale fire has become one more sobering reminder to citizens still considering leasing their mineral rights to fracking companies. The same shale oil that ABARTA and Chesapeake want to devour has already degraded the air quality in Berea, and they’re not even fracking... yet.
In the wake of the town's shale fire, the arrival of hundreds of land men into Madison County, and the hushed fracking exploration going on at leased test sites, many Berea residents have now taken up door-to-door campaigning. Members of KEF and other local grassroots organizations are warning neighbors about the repercussions of signing any lease that would allow oil or gas exploration on their property.
While small fracking operations have existed in Kentucky since the 1960s, nothing as deep as the Rogersville Shale has ever been fracked, and the possible environmental consequences of it happening are dire. The millions of gallons of water used in the proposed shale drilling would strain water resources all around Kentucky – water that's already damaged by decades of coal extraction. KEF also found that nearly 600 hazardous chemicals would be used in the Rogersville frack, findings they presented to the Madison Fiscal Court and the Richmond City Commission in late January.
What happens next is anyone's guess. But one thing certain is that this town won't take more corporate abuse lying down.
- See more at: http://www.occupy.com/article/berea-burning-fracking-fires-and-grassroots-action-thats-inflamed-kentucky#sthash.hjIpfKuA.dpuf
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