First, an important message: as obsessed as I am with the horrible fracking situation in my beloved Colorado, and as much as I want to help, as much as I can, I’m taking a break from that subject on Flora’s Forum after this post. I need to get back to sharing good news here–about art, about wonder, about beauty on this good earth. That’s what this blog is about.
But before I switch gears, I had to do one more post.
This environmental issue is one of the biggest facing our country. There are many lies being told. And so much at stake.
I’d like to share a powerful letter from my friend Lucy. She’s spoken to people she knew as kids (she was their elementary school teacher) who are now dealing with a fracking nightmare.
She was going to give this speech in December, and then the vote was delayed to February 11th, 2013.
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Letter to City Council
December 14, 2012
My name is Lucy Bell. I want to briefly talk about the development of the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota.
Why would that be of interest in Colorado? The Bakken was first surveyed in 1995. They are roughly fifteen years ahead of where we are now. North Dakota is a window into our future, and while the economic boom captures headlines, the dark side is rarely reported.
In 2011 I made a pilgrimage to New Town, North Dakota, located on the Fort Berthold Indian reservation, fifty years after I began my teaching career there. My intention was to look up my first graders, now 56 years old. It was an unforgettable experience, but a surprise I had not anticipated was the vast change in the area, now dominated by huge trucks and tankers hauling sand, water, and chemicals to hundreds of drilling sites.
That led to my investigation into fracking.
Last week I read an article by the Food and Environment Reporting Network, published in Nation magazine that reports on the Schilke ranch near Williston in the Bakken formation of western North Dakota. Their cattle, healthy before fracking began, are now dying . Many calves are born dead. The cattle have swollen legs, infections and their tails have dropped off.
A big market existed for Jacki Schilke’s black Angus beef, but she’s no longer selling it or eating it. Since fracking began on thirty-two oil and gas wells within a three-mile radius of her ranch, Jacki, too, has developed health problems, diagnosed as neurotoxic damage.
Air testing revealed elevated levels of benzene, methane, cholorform, butane, propane, toluene, and xylene. Also arsenic and other heavy metals. Even her vegetables are not safe to eat.
I immediately thought of two of my students I’d met, both ranchers not far from the Schilke ranch. We’d renewed our acquaintance at a restaurant in Killdeer, North Dakota. I laughed when they pulled out their wallets and had as many pictures of their heifers as they did of their kids.
I called Annie* hoping she’d tell me that story was hyped and things weren’t that bad. Wrong! When she began talking, I heard the same story I’d heard from people in the documentaries Gasland and Split Estate. She and her husband signed with an oil company, which has not kept their share of the bargain. Numerous violations including the destruction of a dam on their property were ignored or inadequately repaired. When they went for help to the state, they were told “It’s not our jurisdiction , see your lawyer.”
A creek runs through the whole area. It has turned neighbor against neighbor as the oil company drains off the water and drills water wells. Fracking takes 3-5 million gallons for each well, and the drillers are desperate for water. Landowners are not treated equally—there is an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust.
I asked Annie if she had seen the Schilke article. She said someone anonymously placed it where she works. People are afraid to anger the oil company because they may have to pay back money they no longer have.
Then Annie addressed a topic that sounded like it came from Ken Burns’ latest PBS special on The Dust Bowl. She said, “The worst thing is the dust. It’s constant.”(from
trucks going to the fracking sites.) “It’s in the air. It’s all over everything. It never goes away.” I told her that an autopsy of the Schilke cattle had shown they died of dust pneumonia, the same thing that killed people during the Dust Bowl.
Two points I want to leave you with:
1. We need clean air, clean water and clean soil to produce safe food.
2. Water is our most precious resource. The oil companies suck it up wherever they can get it. When the water comes back to the surface after fracking, it is poisoned. Forever. It is industrial waste that has to be stored somewhere—another problem. No form of life can exist on this planet without clean water.
*Name changed to protect privacy
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The next City Council meeting is on February 12th at 1 p.m. My personal opinion: the public needs to raise holy hell.
To send them a letter, or to get more information so you can attend this meeting, go here.