Youngstowners are rightfully outraged over the deliberate dumping of fracking oil, brine and mud, up to a quarter of a million gallons, into a storm drain that emptied into tributary of the Mahoning River. As journalists dig deeper into the story, we are learning that the dumper is a local hooligan with a box full of shell companies and a stack of prior violations. It was his injection well that caused a series of earthquakes here in a city that’s been rattled by just about everything else.
But don’t get us wrong – we’re mad about the dumping, but we’re madly in love with fracking. That’s the strange disconnect. Activists are circulating a petition to put a city charter amendment on the spring ballot asserting that citizens of Youngstown have a right to clean air and water, and polls show it going down in flames.
I’m sensing that the general opinion around here is that Ben Lupo, this crazy dumper, is a law breaker and has nothing to do with the safe and regulated world of fracking. I’ve seen more discussion over what medieval punishments would be delicious revenge for him than discussion on what to do now with this river that is a source of drinking water for local communities. And of course the river doesn’t stay here – it meanders along until it joins the Ohio River, along with the waters running past Pittsburgh that we now know are testing positive for radiation from the fracking activity that’s turned that state into a Superfund Site.
Just for the sake of the argument, let’s say that the deliberate and accidental spills all over this country aren’t happening. Let’s say that the gas and oil industry is in perfect control, and every well with its fancy casing keeps everything where it’s supposed to be. The fracking fluid goes down, clean natural gas comes up. Energy independence. Affordable heat. Royalties for landowners. Local economies rescued. State coffers replenished. Or state income taxes reduced.
There’s still a question. When we take trillions of gallons of clean water and put the solvents in it that make fracking possible, then it comes out of the ground with added heavy metals and radiation, how do we safely dispose of it? The answer is: there is no answer. Injection wells pose more risk than earthquakes: there are thousands of abandoned mines and wells that aren’t on any map. It’s all loose down there, and anything can migrate – that’s what makes fracking work, the movement of fluid and gas. It’s too toxic to store above ground. And for the love of god, why is it legal to pour on roads as deicer? Right now Ohio is taking the fracking waste of Pennsylvania because our neighbor’s geography isn’t quite as good as ours for toxic waste disposal.
This is enough to keep me up at night, but it still misses the point. When we take that fresh water and add the chemicals to it, step one, the damage is done. We can never use that water again. Never. We’ve been drinking the same water since we were we and water was water. My morning coffee has had more past lives than Elizabeth Taylor. And that’s all the fresh water we have. Right now there are seven billion people on the planet. In 2050, when my kids are grandparents, there will be nine billion. What are they going to do for water? We are already in short supply.
What are we using this water for – something essential that will keep us alive, like, drinking it? No. We are using it up to create energy that is burned once and then is gone forever, or turned into plastics that will pile up in landfills.
Of course it’s a lot worse than that. So many of us will end up sick, our water unusable, the life in our streams and rivers dead, our properties worthless, our planet even hotter. And that’s bad enough. But we will be the generation that stood by while our water was poisoned. Let the record show that some of us were screaming. But most of us were cheering.