Fracking Versus Food: America’s Family Farm Heritage and Health at StakeJun 30, 2014 11:41AM ● By Harriet Shugarman
What if farmers couldn’t confirm that what they grow and produce was devoid of toxins, cancer-causing chemicals, radioactive materials and other pollutants?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other federal and state agencies set standards and enforce regulations to ensure what we eat is safe and that production is secure. But hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and its accompanying infrastructure threaten this. Questions must be raised and answered before the safety of our food supply is permanently impacted.
Conditions that Demand Changes
• No federal funding exists for researching the impacts of chemical contamination from oil and gas drilling and infrastructure on food and food production.
• No public tests are required for what contaminants to look for because many of the 500-plus chemicals used in the fracking process are categorized as proprietary.
• Minimal-to-no baseline analysis is being done on air, water and soil conditions before oil and gas companies come
• No commonly agreed distances are lawfully required between farms, farmlands, rivers, streams and water supplies in relation to oil and gas wells and their infrastructure.
Harsh economic conditions, plus concerns over long-term climate changes, including extreme weather events, have pitted neighbors against one another as farmers consider leasing their lands to oil and gas companies. More, often the riches promised do not make their way to the farmers that need them the most as American policies continue to favor megalithic agribusinesses and push farming families into unsustainable choices.
Standard drilling leases rarely provide broad protections for farmers and can even eliminate their input on where roads are created and fracking machinery is installed on their property, all of which can hamper normal farming. In Pennsylvania, where fracking is commonplace, thousands of diesel trucks drive by working farms daily, compounding problems already associated with 24/7 vibrations, noises, emissions and light pollution, stressing both humans and farm animals.
In New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio, farmers that have or are near such leased land are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain mortgages, re-mortgage property and acquire or renew insurance policies. Caught up in a vicious cycle, some farmers feel forced to abandon their farms, thus opening up more land to oil and gas companies.
“Fracking is turning many rural environments into industrial zones,” observes Jennifer Clark, owner of Eminence Road Farm Winery, in New York’s Delaware County. She notes that we often hear a lot about the jobs fracking might create, but we hear little about the agricultural jobs being lost or the destruction of a way of life that has been integral to America’s landscape for generations.
“We can’t in good conscience say our food is organic, as we no longer are sure what chemicals are leaching into our soil through our water and contaminated air.”
~ Pennsylvania family put out of business due to nearby fracking after 20 years of organic farming
Asha Canalos, an organic blueberry and heirloom vegetable farmer in Orange County, New York, is among the leaders in the David versus Goliath battle pitting farmers and community members against the Millennium Pipeline Company and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. On May 1, oral arguments were heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals. According to Canalos, “Our case could set a national precedent, with all the attending legal precedent, that will either empower other farmers and communities like ours and Minisink or will do the opposite.”
In January 2013, more then 150 New York chefs and food professionals sent a letter to Governor Mario Cuomo calling for a ban on fracking in their state. As of December 2013, more then 250 chefs have signed on to the Chefs for the Marcellus campaign, which created the petition. In April 2014, Connecticut chefs entered the fray by launching their own petition to ban the acceptance of fracking waste in Connecticut.
In California this past February, farmers and chefs banded together to present Governor Jerry Brown with a petition calling for a moratorium on fracking, stating that fracking wastes huge amounts of water. The previous month, California had declared a statewide drought emergency, and by April Brown had issued an executive order to strengthen the state’s ability to manage water. Ironically, existing California regulations don’t restrict water use by industrial processes, including fracking, which uses and permanently removes tremendous amounts of water from the water cycle. To date, fracking in California operates with little state regulation.
It’s past due for a “time out” on oil and gas production and infrastructure development. Every citizen needs to think carefully and thoughtfully about what’s at stake as outside interests rush to use extreme forms of energy extraction to squeeze the last drops of fossil fuels from our Mother Earth.
Activist Harriet Shugarman, a veteran economist and policy analyst and former representative for the International Monetary Fund at the United Nations, currently chairs regional environmental committees and works with national, state and local organizations seeking pro-environmental legislation.